AMD HAS BEEN MIA in the server market for the past few years, but its latest EPYC “data center processor” brings the company back into the thick of the battle. Word from the front lines? These new AMD EPYC 7000 series processors have leapfrogged Intel, their top competitor.
“AMD won the war of the billboard,” says Matthew Kimball, senior data center analyst, servers and storage, for analyst firm Moor Insights & Strategy. “It has more of everything—cores, memory capacity and bandwidth, and PCIe lanes. Channel sales reps who get only a few minutes in front of a customer can distill its message, hitting all their IT pain points, including power, optimization, and security.”
EPYC’s credentials are impressive: up to 32 multithreaded cores per system on chip (SoC), up to 64 threads, eight memory channels, 128 lanes of PCIe, and up to 2TB of RAM supported from one socket motherboard. Those are numbers likely to appeal to cloud service providers in particular, according to Rob Enderle, owner and principal analyst of The Enderle Group.
“AMD designers looked closely at today’s systems loads, which are a lot different than when their last server chip was developed,” he says. “The type of performance levels that made mainframes such I/O beasts work great for the cloud as well.”
Getting Back in the Game?
Still, Intel dominates the server processor market. Can EPYC get AMD back in the game? Enderle believes so. “AMD may take 20 points of market share over the next year or two, but since competition usually heats up the market, Intel may not see a drop in its unit sales,” he says. “Companies may start refreshing servers sooner and expand overall sales.”
EPYC looks great in head-to-head competition today, adds Kimball. “But that was against Intel’s Broadwell family, not Skylake/Purley, though it looks like EPYC is going to compare favorably,” he says. “The fact that AMD can come back into the market after a five-year hiatus and compete is a testament to its design team.”
AMD also has an odd advantage: Without as many legacy servers in the field to worry about, it can focus more on the future. “Intel has a major install base to take care of,” says Enderle. “As a result, AMD may not run as well with some legacy applications, but new systems will perform much better.”
The normal lag time in server sales means EPYC won’t have an impact on the market until sometime in 2018. Expect the processor battle to escalate more when Intel’s next data center CPU iteration debuts in 2019.
“Cloud providers tend to be much more forward looking than traditional server vendors,” notes Enderle. “Having a good relationship with cloud providers who often roll their own servers will be a good thing for AMD.”
Storage servers could be an interesting use case for EPYC as well, continues Enderle. “Development, application hosting, and a hybrid environment with a blend of cloud and on-premises flexibility and cost containment should work in AMD’s favor,” he says. “Tuning will be easier if you can treat the on-premise and cloud loads the same.”
Other areas EPYC should do well in include virtualization, virtual desktop infrastructure, database servers, big data and analytics, and artificial intelligence, says Kimball. “These processors can do a lot of things well,” he notes. “Their high core count and memory bandwidth make them great [chips] for virtualized workloads.”
What will it take for system designers who’ve been architecting virtualization and database solutions on Intel servers for their entire careers to position an AMD server over Intel? “Confidence in EPYC,” Kimball says. “And that only comes with education, experience, and strong relationships. A strong and vibrant channel program is critical to its success.”