AWS Launches Cloud Instances Powered by Custom Arm Chips

Becomes the first cloud giant to sell Arm servers as a service, although not the first cloud provider to do so.

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

November 27, 2018

2 Min Read
Peter DeSantis, AWS VP of global infrastructure, speaking at AWS re:Invent 2018 in Las Vegas
Peter DeSantis, AWS VP of global infrastructure, speaking at AWS re:Invent 2018 in Las VegasAmazon Web Services

Renting Arm servers at a low cost on the world’s biggest cloud platform is now a reality.

Amazon Web Services kicked off re:Invent Monday night by announcing new cloud compute instances powered by Arm processors it designed in-house. They are among the cheapest instance types AWS offers, designed for scale-out workloads that can run across multiple low-power servers, or “smaller instances,” as AWS chief evangelist Jeff Barr put it in a blog post.

Peter DeSantis, AWS VP of global infrastructure, announced the new AWS Graviton processor in the opening keynote for the cloud provider’s annual conference in Las Vegas. The chip was developed by the team from Annapurna Labs, an Israeli startup Amazon acquired in 2015.

Five Arm-powered instances, called A1, are now available from AWS and can be deployed in AWS data centers in Northern Virginia, Ohio, Oregon, and Ireland, Barr wrote. Developers can spin up Amazon Linux 2, RHEL, and Ubuntu on these servers.

“If your application is written in a scripting language, odds are that you can simply move it over to an A1 instance and run it as-is,” according to Barr. “If your application compiles down to native code, you will need to rebuild it on an A1 instance.”


AWS's Arm-based Graviton processor, built by Annapurna Labs (Source: AWS VP and distinguished engineer James Hamilton's Perspectives blog)

While Amazon isn’t the first cloud provider to offer Arm servers, it is the first of the cloud giants to do so. Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform – cloud platforms that are comparable to AWS in size (if not by revenue) – currently don’t offer Arm instances. Microsoft has designed Arm servers and deployed them in its data centers but has yet to offer the architecture as a cloud service.

Smaller cloud providers that have been offering Arm instances powered by off-the-shelf processors include New York-based Packet and Paris-based Scaleway, subsidiary of the French telco Iliad.

For years, Arm, which dominates in smartphones and tablets, has been viewed as one of the most promising processor architectures that can yield a viable alternative to Intel’s x86 architecture in the data center market. Intel owns nearly the entire server market today, and data center operators, especially hyperscale cloud platforms, don’t like having a single supplier for any of their components.

SoftBank Group-owned Arm Holdings’ business model of licensing its architecture out to chipmakers substantially lowers the barrier to entry into the capital-intensive semiconductor market, opening it up for more players. The model also enables companies to build processors that are optimized for specific workloads, promising higher performance with those workloads than the general-purpose x86 chips.

Subscribe to the Data Center Knowledge Newsletter
Get analysis and expert insight on the latest in data center business and technology delivered to your inbox daily.

You May Also Like