Chipmaker Qualcomm has announced an intention to expand beyond its stronghold in smartphone chips and enter the server market with processors targeting data centre applications.
The semiconductor giant announced the plans during its 2014 analyst meeting in New York, where chief executive Steve Mollenkopf said the firm is looking to invest in markets outside its core business of mobile and wireless chips.
"This is something we're working on but not talking about for some time. Now, we are going to have a product that goes into the server," Mollenkopf said.
But he was careful to underline that Qualcomm will continue to develop smartphone chips, saying that there is "still a lot of growth" in the smartphone market.
On the server side, Mollenkopf said that changes in the data centre because of the impact of cloud computing have created a big opportunity for ARM servers, and Qualcomm is well positioned to take advantage of this.
"We're now at a point where a lot of the growth in the data centre tends to happen in areas where the operating system is already being written from scratch on Linux and driven by a smaller number of people who design their own data centre, are interested in alternatives [to x86] and interested in new architectures," he said.
"At the same time if you look at Qualcomm's roadmap - the high-end design point for our smartphones, what would be the evolution of the laptop and the tablet - it really is starting to merge with what would feasible to put into the data centre," he said.
However, Qualcomm is giving away few details of its plans at this point. The firm already has its own 64-bit ARM-based processor technology, as evidenced by the Snapdragon 805 chip for smartphones released earlier this year.
But there is more to building a server platform than simply dropping a smartphone chip onto a motherboard, as Qualcomm tacitly admitted.
"We're starting to engage with customers now, but will take us time to build up this business," Mollenkopf said.
Qualcomm will face strong competition in the data centre market from rival chipmaker AMD, which already has a presence in the space and has been developing its own ARM server chip, the Opteron A1100, for at least two years.
Earlier this year, AMD made a test platform available, the Opteron A1100 development kit, for hardware and software developers, and early adopter customers. The chips, codenamed Seattle, were slated for general availability before the end of 2014.
HP is also shipping ARM-based modules for its Moonshot server platform, but these are based on 32-bit TI chips with integrated digital signal processor circuitry targeting media processing applications.
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