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Alibaba Cloud plans for a fifth of its servers to use homebrew Arm CPUs by 2025

Sanctions? What sanctions? Just look at the low, low, power consumption figures

Alibaba Cloud has revealed that it plans to power 20 percent of its operations with its own homebrew CPUs by 2025.

The Chinese cloud champ unveiled its Yitian 710 server-class CPU in 2021. In early 2022 the operation started trials of the devices and offered more info about its specs: 128 Armv9-compatible CPU cores, clock speed of up to 3.2GHz, eight DDR5 channels and 96 PCIe 5.0 lanes, all cooked up on a 5nm process.

At its Aspara conference yesterday, and on Chinese social media, the cloud operator revealed the CPUs have already been pressed into service "on a large scale in the Alibaba Cloud datacenter," where they're powering workloads for Alibaba "and many internet technology companies."

None were named.

But Alibaba Cloud named the date when it expects the Yitian 710 to reach 20 percent of its server fleet: the year 2025.

To do so, the operation must be confident that plenty of the open source software its customers need – as well as Alibaba Cloud's own code – will have been ported to Arm architecture and proven to work at scale. As amply demonstrated by Azure, Oracle Cloud and Google Cloud adopting Ampere CPUs for some of their servers, plenty of useful code is already Arm-ready.

Yet none of those clouds, nor AWS with its homebrew Graviton silicon, have set a 20 percent Arm target.

Of course the likes of AWS, Microsoft, and Oracle aren't subject to the kind of sanctions that make it harder for Chinese companies to get their hands on tech developed by US companies. Alibaba Cloud's shift to Yitian therefore looks to be driven as much by necessity as innovation.

Now all it needs is alternative sources of GPUs.

Not that Yitian is without actual advantages. Alibaba Cloud proudly boasts a 30 percent cost/performance boost and 60 percent energy savings compared to its x86 fleet.

The latter figure would be welcome anywhere, as major clouds have recently cited increasing energy prices adding hundreds of millions of dollars to their cost bases. ®

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