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Cloud Providers Are Already Considering Intel Rivals After Meltdown,Spectre Chip Flaw Discoveries
By REUTERS January 10, 2018
Some of Intel‘s data center customers, whose thousands of
computers run cloud networks, are exploring using microchips
from the market leader’s rivals to build new infrastructure
after the discovery of security flaws affecting most chips.
Whether Intel sees a slew of defectors or is forced to offer
discounts, the company could take a hit to one of its fastest
growing business units. Intel chips back 98% of data center
operations, according to industry consultancy IDC.
Security researchers last week disclosed flaws, dubbed Meltdown
and Spectre, that could allow hackers to steal passwords or
encryption keys on most types of computers, phones, and cloud-
Microsoft (MSFT, -0.53%) said on Tuesday the patches necessary
to secure the threats could have a significant performance
impact on servers.
Intel (INTC, -2.59%) will help customers find the best approach
in terms of security, performance and compatibility, it said in
a statement on Tuesday. “For many customers, the performance
element is foremost, and we are sharply focused on doing all we
can to ensure that we meet their expectations.”
Alternatives include Advanced Micro Devices (AMD, +0.93%), which
shares with Intel a chip architecture called x86, or chips based
on technology from ARM Holdings or graphics processing chips,
which were developed for different tasks than Intel and AMD’s
central processing units, or CPUs.
For Gleb Budman’s company, San Mateo-based online storage firm
Backblaze, building with ARM chips would not be difficult.
“If ARM provides enough computing power at lower cost or lower
power than x86, it would be a strong incentive for us to
switch,” said Budman. “If the fix for x86 results in a
dramatically decreased level of performance, that might
increasingly push in favor of switching to ARM.”
Infinitely Virtual, a Los Angeles-based cloud computing vendor,
is counting on Intel to replace equipment or offer a rebate to
make up for the loss in computing power, Chief Executive Adam
Stern said in an interview.
“If Intel doesn’t step up and do something to make this right
then we’re going to have to punish them in the marketplace by
not purchasing their products,” said Stern, whose company relies
exclusively on Intel processors.
Cloud providers said swapping out previously installed Intel
chips for rivals’ would be too complex, but moving forward they
could expand their networks using alternatives. Moving from
Intel to AMD is easiest since AMD and Intel chips share a common
core technology called the x86 instruction set, they said.
ARM-based chips lag the speed of Intel’s x86 based chips for
tasks such as searches, and software would have to be rewritten.
Nvidia‘s (NVDA, +1.15%) so-called graphical processing units, or
GPUs, are not a direct replacement for Intel’s CPUs, but they
are taking over the CPU’s role for new types of work like image
recognition and speech recognition.
Major technology companies had been experimenting with Intel
alternatives even before the security flaws were revealed.
Last March, Microsoft committed to using ARM processors for its
Azure cloud service, and in December, Microsoft Azure deployed
Advanced Micro Devices processors in its data centers.
Alphabet‘s Google (GOOGL, -0.19%) said in 2016 that it was
designing a server based on International Business Machines’s
Power9 processor (IBM, +0.22%). And Amazon.com‘s Amazon Web
Services (AMZN, +0.17%) chose AMD graphics processing units for
a graphics design service announced in September.
Both Qualcomm (QCOM, +0.00%) and Cavium are developing ARM chips
aimed at data centers. Cavium said it aimed to rival the
performance of Intel chips for applications like databases and
the content-delivery networks that help speed things like how
fast online videos load.
Cavium is working with Microsoft and “several other cloud”
vendors, said Gopal Hegde, vice president of the data center
processor group. Cavium and ARM rival Qualcomm work together to
reduce the amount of software that has to be rewritten for ARM
Cloudflare, a San Francisco cloud network company, has been
evaluating ARM chips. The new security patches have not slowed
its performance, but it will use the security issues as an
opportunity to re-evaluate its use of Intel products, said Chief
Technology Officer John Graham Cumming.
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