Micron Technology MU -0.88% today announced a new processor architecture aimed at bringing higher levels of performance to Graph Search and other compute-intensive applications.
For those unfamiliar with the term, Graph Search is the prevailing algorithm for managing “Big Data” and is used by all leading search engines. Companies like Google GOOG -0.2%, Microsoft MSFT -1.69%, and Amazon have deployed roughly one million Intel INTC +0.37%-based servers each in their data centers to create a hardware environment optimized to perform the exact type of tasks that Micron’s new Automata Processor shines at.
In a briefing Micron compared performance of the Automata to a $20,000 array of conventional Xeon-based servers running a standard test called “NP Hard.” NP Hard has a number of settings to determine the complexity of the problem to be solved. In a series of these tests Automata executed the problem for a range of complexities broader than those that the Xeon array could conquer. The time taken to solve the problem increased exponentially on the Xeon array while it scaled linearly with Automata.
Is this a threat to Intel? Yes!
Intel has been watching its PC business erode and has fortunately been able to rely on servers to bolster the company’s revenues. The server market has been very strong lately because of the build-out of massive data centers, each with tens of thousands of Intel-based servers, to process all that the Internet has to offer. If the server market were to migrate from Intel processors to some other technology the results could be catastrophic for the leader in processors.
This isn’t Intel’s only threat, though. Facebook has been backing the Open Computing Architecture initiative for a few years now, and the servers proposed in this effort replace one powerful Intel CPU with dozens of weaker ARM processors all on a single server board. The point of this approach is to save cost and power while providing a similar level of performance to anything Intel has to offer. It’s a compelling argument.
Picture a word in which data centers use Automata processors for search and ARM processors for other problems, and you picture a world in which Intel plays no part. This has got to have snagged Intel’s attention.
I am not saying that this change is going to happen tomorrow. Micron is just now disclosing the architecture to the world, and it’s being shown at the Supercomputing Conference, which is a conference for the most advanced computing technologies, but advanced computing architectures have a habit of trickling down into mainstream PCs in a matter of years.
This is an architecture that has the potential to redirect the market away from Intel, and that means that Intel will have to respond or suffer the loss of one of its key markets. In the mean time Micron is in a good position, and seems willing to do what it takes to explore a new market in adversity to a very fierce competitor!