Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of very interesting and significant announcements from multiple companies with new initiatives based on ARM technology targeting designs for networking and telecom infrastructure.
I attended the Linley processor conference in Santa Clara in October and it was interesting to see the material presented highlight the expected increase in market share of ARM based technology in the infrastructure to a majority share in the next 3 to 4 years.
The Linley processor conference was chosen by Broadcom to announce a new series of devices based on the ARMv8-A 64 bit technology. The processor architecture will be compliant with the ARMv8-A specification and, whilst the company didn't disclose when first devices would be available, Broadcom did announce that performance would be targeting levels to compete with the Intel Xeon class of processor cores. Given the depth and breadth of technology available from within the Broadcom arsenal, it may be safe to expect a number of very interesting devices being announced in the future.
Another interesting announcement came from Altera with news of their new ARMv8-A 64 bit ARM based Stratix 10 SOC devices. The devices will integrate quad-core Cortex-A53 cores to complement their floating point digital signal processing cores and FPGA fabric in an architecture that will offer designers a true heterogeneous computing platform. This device promises to provide an excellent blend of compute performance, power efficiency and throughput provided by the ARM cores. The Cortex-A53 cores provide features such as virtualization support, a huge amount of memory that can be addressed as well as protection for internal L1 and L2 cache memories. Interestingly Altera have announced that this part will use the the Intel foundries for this part and will be targeted at Intel's 14nm Tri-Gate process.
The final announcement I would like to highlight this month is the one by IBM where they announced that they were to licence ARM cores and technology to be integrated in designs for communications and networking equipment. IBM have licensed Cortex-A15, Cortex-A12, and Cortex-A7 cores. It is likely that these cores will be used to integrate with IBM's customers logic in ASIC designs for communications equipment using IBM foundry services.
What I find interesting in these series of recent announcements is that network equipment OEM's now have a range of options to choose from when making their choice of what medium to use to realize their equipment designs. There are already a range of ASSP silicon providers who provide SOC designs for a whole range of applications from enterprise networking through wireless infrastructure to core infrastructure networking applications. Announcements like the one from Broadcom allow OEMs to benefit from integration of diverse functions and target extremely high performance compute subsystems that are ARM ISA compliant. These are now being augmented by FPGA designs such as the innovative Altera Stratix 10 discussed above and now by the availability of a route to ASIC to allow OEMs to realize their designs mixing ARM cores with their own logic.
These new technology announcements will allow OEM's and operators to compete at the forefront of many of the initiatives that are threatening inflection points in the infrastructure rollout (eg. SDN, NVF and various content delivery schemes). Whichever route to market the OEMs decide upon, they can now benefit from a range of performance points from the various interconnect and processor cores available from the ARM portfolio whilst also benefiting from a common software environment and a wide ecosystem of software and tools to support their development and accelerate their time to market.