ARM hopes for a serious impact on the server market starting in 2014 when its 64-bit processor design reaches the market, CEO Warren East said.
Server makers have announced experimental systems with low-power ARM processors, which is a big confidence booster for the company, East said. But it may be a few more years until it has the tools and processor architecture in place to make significant inroads in that market, he admitted.
ARM started chasing the server market in 2008, and realised then it would be a six-year journey, East said.
ARM is currently found mostly in smartphones and tablets, but there is a growing interest in using the low-power processors in servers as companies look to cut data centre costs. Experiments with implementing ARM in servers are already underway, with HP announcing ARM-based server designs and chip maker Nvidia mixing up its Tegra 3 chips and graphics processors in a Barcelona supercomputer.
But as a newcomer, ARM has to unseat Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, whose x86 chips dominate data centres. ARM's current processors are only 32-bit versus 64-bit for x86, which East acknowledged was a disadvantage, especially with servers.
"There's a chunk of other server applications where the software has been written on the assumption that there's a 64-bit processor there. Today ARM is a 32-bit processor and so we just have to accept the fact that those server workloads where the assumption is 64-bit, we can't do it," East said.
In October, ARM introduced its first 64-bit microprocessor architecture, ARMv8, with prototype consumer and enterprise systems not expected until about 2014. ARMv8 will address more memory and storage, which are important for applications running on servers.
"It's coming. If 10 years ago we said we're going to be in the server space in 2012, then maybe if we started doing something 64-bit a bit sooner, we'd be a bit soon. But not to worry, I think it's the right timing," East said.
As ARM works its way into the server market, Intel is releasing low-power chips to contend with ARM in the smartphone and tablet markets. Intel at CES announced that its Atom processor codenamed Medfield would be used in future smartphones from Lenovo and Motorola.