Ampere Says Its Chips in Microsoft, Tencent Data Centers, Unveils New Design

CEO Renee James says beginning next year, Ampere will sell chips with cores designed in house instead of using Arm designs.


May 20, 2021

2 Min Read
Microsoft data center in Cheyenne, Wyoming
Microsoft data center in Cheyenne, WyomingMicrosoft

Ian King (Bloomberg) -- Ampere Computing, a startup aiming to make a dent in Intel Corp.’s dominance of the lucrative server chip market, said it has signed up big customers including Microsoft Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. and has a new design on the way.

Microsoft Azure, Tencent Cloud, and TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance Ltd. are among those using Ampere’s Altra processors, according to founder and Chief Executive Officer Renee James. The former Intel executive says she has other large customers too.

Beginning next year, Ampere will offer a new chip that features processor cores designed in house, James said. That’ll help the company tailor its products to the needs of hyperscalers, providers of computing over the internet, who build giant data centers to meet the growing need for cloud services. Ampere’s current products use cores licensed from SoftBank Group Corp.’s Arm Ltd. The new chips will retain software compatibility with that technology, she said.

Ampere’s announcement raises its prominence in the race to provide the backbone of new systems being built to run artificial intelligence software that can make sense of the increasing flood of data created by smartphone and internet traffic. The Santa Clara, California-based company, backed by an investment from Oracle Corp., is one of a group of companies trying to shake Intel’s hold on a market where individual chips can sell for as much as the price of a compact car.

So far, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., run by the only other female leader of a chip company, Lisa Su, is the only one to show significant gains against Intel, which until recently had a market share of more than 99%. Ampere and internal efforts by Inc.’s AWS are leading the push to bring Arm technology, which is pervasive in smartphone silicon, to more powerful computer systems.

Proponents of that approach argue that scaling up mobile chips results in much more efficient solutions. The amount of computing that can be crammed into an individual data center is increasingly running up against the limits of electricity available to power and cool servers, with processors being one of the major sources of demand for energy.

Ampere claimed its current products beat the best offerings from Intel and AMD in performance and efficiency, in an online presentation given early Wednesday. Those companies design chips for a broad range of uses, which makes them less effective in cloud computing James said.

“We can do things faster and move forward better than the broad-based approach,” she said. “Customers wait for no man. You have to move forward on a pretty specific cadence.”

Ampere is using Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to outsource its production and the chips coming next year will be made with 5-nanometer technology. Ampere is generating revenue from its products now and has secured enough financial backing to be able to self-fund development of future generations of chips, James said.

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