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Year In Review: Competition Heats Up Data Centers

December 24, 2019

Author: Bob Wheeler

Everybody seems to want a piece of the fast-growing high-revenue data-center market. Incumbent leaders have targets on their backs as new entrants large and small bring products to market. Yet 2019 started off poorly for Intel and Nvidia as cloud customers digested excess inventory. By 3Q19, both companies saw their data-center revenue recover, setting up a return to growth in 2020. Switch-chip leader Broadcom weathered the slowdown better.

In server processors, AMD shook up the status quo by bringing its second-generation Epyc to production. Code-named Rome, the 64-core processor took the performance lead in mainstream two-socket servers. Two new Arm-based server processors reached the market in 2019, both developed for internal consumption. Amazon’s Graviton2 and Huawei’s KunPeng 920 each sport 64 cores based on Arm’s Neoverse N1.

The AI-accelerator market divides into training and inference, and Nvidia remained dominant in the former while expanding shipments in the latter. The company is leading the inference transition from Xeon processors to its more efficient Tesla T4 GPUs. Until recently, it faced little training competition other than indirectly from Google’s internal TPUv3. But Intel’s recent acquisition of Habana strengthens the company’s ability to compete in both training and inference. Startups Graphcore and Cerebras are also delivering accelerators to challenge the leaders.

Hyperscale-data-center networks are moving to 100Gbps server access and 400Gbps switch ports. Broadcom was first to production with a 400G Ethernet switch chip, but two competitors shipped in 2019 and three more are due in 2020. The leader kept its foot on the gas, however, recently sampling a new switch with twice the port density of any competitor. Looking ahead to 2020, we expect half a dozen new server processors will reach production, including Intel’s first 10nm Xeon.

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