ARM, AMD, AWS and Annapurna Labs

Subject: General Tech | November 28, 2018 - 01:46 PM |
Tagged: arm, amd, AWS, Annapurna Labs, graviton

You may have never heard of Graviton before, but chances are you've interacted with one on Amazon.  The current chip which powers many AWS instances is based on a Cortex-A72 design and runs 2.3GHz and was almost designed by AMD.  Instead, AMD was focusing on Zen design and were not able to commit enough resources to the development of the ARM chip, which is why Amazon chose to buy Annapurna Labs outright and have the chip designed in house.  We did see that AMD ARM chip, the A1100, which did not see much market success.

There is quite a story behind this, catch up on it over at The Register.

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"Up until early 2015, Amazon and AMD were working together on a 64-bit Arm server-grade processor to deploy in the internet titan's data centers. However, the project fell apart when, according to one well-placed source today, "AMD failed at meeting all the performance milestones Amazon set out."

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November 28, 2018 | 05:23 PM - Posted by NotComptelelyTheTruthFromElRegThisTime (not verified)

"Instead, AMD was focusing on Zen design and were not able to commit enough resources to the development of the ARM chip, which is why Amazon chose to buy Annapurna Labs outright and have the chip designed in house."

Really AMD had, At That Very Same Time, Keller/Team working on a custom K12 ARM core design that was all AMD and not some ARM Holding's refrence core design. And just like Apple's A7 Cyclone and newer series processors AMD's K12 was only engineered to execute the ARMv8A ISA but was an all AMD design under the hood!

Amazon was probably looking at AMD's Opteron A1100 Seattle CPU design that was not based on K12 but was based on the less efficient A57 ARM Holdings Refrence cores. So it's not very hard to see why Amazon went with an A72 design that was more efficient than the A57 and at that time AMD was still on GF's 28nm node also for its Seattle/Opteron 1100 SKUs.

Maybe Amazon can get a look see at Keller's/Design Team's K12 via a semi-custom contract I'm sure that AMD still has all the verilog for K12 and other relevent custom ARM core IP.

I'd rather see Amazon looking at RISC-V and maybe AMD can be hired to take the K12 core IP and rejigger the microcode for some RISC-V design. The RISC-V folks still need to develop some virtualization ISA extentions for the RISC-V ISA, or Amazon just go with some other ARMv8A ISA running design.

So Amazon went with a different ARM holdings refrence core design, the A72, rather than the A57 Arm holdings refrence core design that AMD made use of for its Opteron 1100 SKU that did not meet Amazon's expetations. Amazon did an Apple like transaction in purchasing Amazon's own chip development company(Annapurna Labs) just as Apple purchased P.A. semiconductor way back in time. And Apple at that time got Jim Keller along with Apple's P.A. Semiconductor acquisition.

The quality of The Register's reporting has really dropped below par as has its sister publication NextPlatform and NextPlatform hardly bites the hands that feed IT and neither does the Register on more occasions than not.

The title of that Register article says it all: "Amazon's homegrown 2.3GHz 64-bit Graviton processor was very nearly an AMD Arm CPU"! But the Register very well knows that the Opteron 1100 is not Fully of any AMD in-house ARM custom core design not when it was using Arm Holdings' A57 Refrence Design cores on a 28nm node.

To this day there are sill some egregious Journalistic mistakes confusing AMD's project SkyBridge x86/ARM compatable Motherboard project's cancellation with AMD's custom ARM K12 project. While it's true that K12 is in mothballs AMD still has the IP if some client like Amazon/other just steps up to AMD's semi-custom division and commissions some custom ARM core business. AMD's not likely to turn down any business if the client if footing the bill.

But Amazon now has it's own in-house design team so they can go it on their own for some future desings, and that's what Apple did for its ARM based CPU designs even before those P.A. Semi chip engineers brought out Apple's first fully custom A7/Cyclone cores. If Amazon is smart they will look at RISC-V and help develop a set of RISC-V virtualization/transactional ISA extentions because that's what will be necessary to create any RISC-V based server processors.

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