Ampere launches Altra server processor for hyperscale use

Ampere launched its next-generation server processor for the biggest cloud environments. Called Altra, it is based on 64-bit Arm v8.2+. (Ampere)

Ampere announced Tuesday it has begun shipping samples of its new Altra 80-core server CPU for use in cloud and edge data centers.

Pricing was not announced, although Ampere said its total cost of ownership is better than comparable AMD and Intel processors. It will be in production in mid-2020.

A relatively newcomer in the server processor market, Ampere was founded in 2018 by Renee James, former president of Intel. The Santa Clara, California-based company began attracting customers in 2019 for its first-generation eMAG product, a 64-bit Arm-based processor.

The new Altra scales to 80 64-bit Arm v8.2+ cores at 210 watts, the company said. Altra is designed from the start for use in cloud environments, including at the hyperscale level, said Jeff Wittich, senior vice president of products at Ampere.

In a series of comparisons with comparable products from AMD and Intel, Ampere Altra was 13% higher than AMD EPYC 7702 and 120% higher than Intel Xeon Platinum 8276 on performance per rack. In terms of total cost of ownership, Ampere said Altra came out 41% better than AMD and 63% better than Intel Xeon Gold.

On power efficiency, Ampere came out 1.14 times more power efficient than AMD and 2.1 times more power efficient than Intel. Power efficiency is a challenge for modern data centers, especially hyperscale systems, Ampere noted. Data centers now use about 3% of the world’s electricity, a number expected to grow to 11% in a decade.

In many of the comparisons, Ampere relied on using Dell PowerEdge servers running the various processors.

Kevin Krewell, an analyst at Tirias Research said the Altra chip looks promising with a good power to performance ratio with 80 Arm cores.  "With the amount of I/O and memory support, Altra should be competitive with AMD's EPYC processor," he said. Arm's ecosystem is progressing and in one example, Amazon is building Graviton processors on Arm, he noted.

While Ampere’s technology sounds impressive, it could take years to see how many large customers adopt it and use it. 

“The server market moves slowly,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. Even though AMD has provided great performance per watt, it still only has 5% market share, he noted.

“To gain share quickly, it would take a major cloud vendor to go all in on the Altra architecture, which is likely not going to happen. I do expect some meaningful deployments though,” he said.

Ampere said it expects to announce customers later Tuesday.

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