The Stack Archive

Tweet: Amazon joins other web giants in trying to design its own chips

Tue 29 Apr 2014

Nice piece of journalistic work from Stacey Higgingbotham and the team at GigaOm that concludes that Amazon is turning its hand to chip design. It has reportedly been recruiting designers from Calxeda, an ARM-based server start-up in Austin, Texas that closed last year. Plus it is advertising on LinkedIn for its Silicon Optimization team (in Austin) that require microprocessor design expertise. Unofficial sources confirm it but officially the company is not commenting on “speculation”.

Of course, Google and Facebook are already going into the world of silicon. Amazon appears to looking at custom chips based on an ARM architecture licence.

“Despite the challenges, Amazon’s foray into silicon makes sense. As we’ve written before, the costs of designing your own silicon have dropped while the penalties for not cutting as much cost as possible from your hardware operations have risen.
Last November Amazon’s James Hamilton explained the company’s thinking about building its own servers and infrastructure, pointing out that it saved 30 percent on costs.

“Like Google and Facebook, Amazon is designing its own servers, and they’re all specialized for the particular service they’re running. Back in the day, Hamilton used to lobby for just having one or two SKUs from a server vendor in order to minimize complexity, but times have changed. Once you master the process, going straight to server manufacturers with custom designs can lop 30 percent off the price right away, not to mention the improved performance and faster turnaround time.”

Today, “You’d be stealing from your customers not to optimize your hardware,” he said.
And now with Google and Facebook investigating chip designs optimized for their workloads, Amazon can only do what it can to keep pace with its rivals; especially Google, who will likely be Amazon’s biggest competitor when it comes to offering a commodity cloud platform. If you take IBM’s decision to use its open Power8 architecture in its SoftLayer cloud (Google is also evaluating that architecture), it too, is using custom silicon for its cloud offering. That of course, leaves Microsoft’s plans an open question.”

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