Will Google Design its Own Processors?

By Gary Kim December 13, 2013

Though some think the idea is a leaked negotiating ploy, there’s a rumor Google might design its own server processors. The idea might seem farfetched, but Google now builds many related products it might otherwise buy.

Operating systems, browsers, PCs, tablets, smart phones, global backbone networks, access networks and data centers are among the inputs and outputs Google now directly supplies, when it might simply source them externally from third parties. That is one reason any rumor about moving to customer processors does not seem wildly out of place.

According to the rumor, Google is considering designing its own server processors using technology from ARM Holdings. In principle, by using its own designs, Google could better manage the interactions between hardware and software.

Any such move could prompt other major application providers, who also rely on their own data centers to support cloud operations, to make their own moves, with obvious implications for Intel, which supplies most of the server processors used in such devices.

Google alone is Intel’s fifth largest customer, according to Bloomberg, buying at least $500 million worth of Intel server chips each year.

As much as Intel would have reason to fear such a move, rival ARM would obviously gain, particularly since, though ARM is a major supplier in mobile devices, ARM has small presence in the server end of the business.

Intel, conversely, has little share in the mobile devices market, where low power consumption is a big issue.

Google in August 2013 joined OpenPOWER, a new initiative under which IBM will license the core intellectual property for POWER technologies to other companies for use in designing servers employed in cloud data centers.

OpenPOWER makes it possible for cloud services and their technology providers to redesign processors and circuit boards to optimize the interactions of microprocessors, memory, networking, data storage and other components.

As a result, they can get servers that are custom-tuned for their applications. That would suggest there is something to the rumor, despite legitimate skepticism.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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