Intel has launched its first Atom processor for the datacentre in the shape of the Atom S1200 line, primarily targeting the emerging microserver category but also network kit and storage arrays, in a move that could be seen as a strike against ARM's ambitions in the server market.
The new 32nm Atom line, previously codenamed Centerton, comprises a 64-bit system-on-a-chip (SoC) featuring twin processor cores and a thermal design power (TDP) envelope as low as 6W, plus on-chip I/O including eight PCI Express lanes.
Intel said the Atom S1200 is chiefly intended for microservers, a relatively new system category aimed at applications where a large number of discrete servers is desirable. These call for a processor with low power consumption that can be packed more densely than other server chips, cramming in as many as 1,000 nodes into a single rack.
"As we speak to different customers in different geographies, we find they all have different needs but are all very conscious of total cost of ownership, and the key thing is they evaluate value in different ways," said Chris Feltham, Intel's datacentre product manager for EMEA.
The upshot of this is more segmentation across the server space, according to Feltham, with the new Atom chips optimised for workloads that are not necessarily compute or I/O intensive.
The kind of application Intel cites as a suitable use case would be to power the Micro Instance virtual machines on Amazon's EC2 cloud computing service, although this is not currently the case.
However, large datacentre operators such as Amazon are likely to deploy a mix of servers with different capabilities to meet different workloads, Feltham continued, with more demanding applications driven by Intel's mainstream Xeon chips, which have themselves been split into E7, E5 and E3 lines to target different server segments.
There is also some crossover with ARM chips for servers, which are being targeted at applications such as web hosting. But Intel contends that its chips have the advantage of compatibility with the majority of existing datacentre software stacks.
Daniel Robinson is technology editor at V3, and has been working as a technology journalist for over two decades. Dan has served on a number of publications including PC Direct and enterprise news publication IT Week. Areas of coverage include desktops, laptops, smartphones, enterprise mobility, storage, networks, servers, microprocessors, virtualisation and cloud computing.