Google is said to be looking at designing its own chips rather than using processors from chip giant Intel, according to reports from Bloomberg.
At first this might be considered as more wackiness from the search giant, following such gems this year as its Google Glass cyber-spectacles and notions about balloons floating above Africa to carry WiFi signals.
However, a closer look at the Bloomberg report shows that Google is considering building server chips based on the ARM architecture, which is a long way from designing your own processor technology from the ground up. In fact, ARM's entire business model lies in creating processor designs for other companies to manufacture.
ARM has spent the past two decades refining its architecture to operate using as little power as possible, chiefly in battery-powered mobile devices such as smartphones. However, with the explosive growth in data and cloud-based services, many big internet firms and telcos are said to be eyeing ARM-based servers as a way of cutting their energy bills.
In theory, it could be relatively simple to produce your own ARM chip – you can just license one of ARM's designs and contract a semiconductor foundry company such as TSMC to manufacture it for you.
However, designing your own custom chip is somewhat more complicated, and the ARM architecture also has little track record so far in the server market. Startups such as Calxeda – which was founded by ex-Intel engineers – have been working on ARM server chips for several years now, with the first production systems only appearing relatively recently.
Of course, Google has enormous resources at its disposal, but if it is serious about making its own ARM-based server chips, we would expect that acquiring a firm with expertise in this area, such as Calxeda, would be a much better plan than trying to start from scratch. Alternatively, Google would be best advised to work with established chipmakers such as AMD, which is building its own ARM server processors.
Creating your own processor, making it work properly and tweaking it for optimum performance and efficiency, and then building an entire server around it, are processes that take time and a great deal of specialist expertise – expertise that Google almost certainly lacks at the moment.
Tellingly, Bloomberg's source is quoted as saying that Google "has made no decision and plans could change".
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