As the world’s biggest internet company, Google has designed and built its own custom-made servers for several years now, but that hardware is still made using components from other companies. However, that could be set to change one day, as a speculative report from Bloomberg reveals that the web giant is now looking at building its own ARM-based chips for its servers.
Bloomberg says that the move could be a serious blow to Intel, which currently builds Google’s chips, but there could be several benefits for the internet giant if it goes ahead with the plan. The biggest advantage would that Google can better manage the interactions between hardware and software, said Bloomberg’s unnamed source. However, the source warns that no plan has been set in stone and that things could change.
For Intel, if Google was to abandon it, it would be damaging. Bloomberg says that the search giant is currently Intel’s fifth biggest customer, and accounts for more than four percent of its total revenues. Should Google start designing and building its own chips, Intel would be the biggest loser – and consequently its stock price fell by just over three percent within hours of the report being published.
The plan would see Google using ARM-based designs for its chips, although the source declined to expand on this further. Nevertheless, as GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham points out, a switch to ARM-based chips for certain kinds of workloads would make sense for Google:
“For an investment in the few tens of millions it might be able to optimize workloads that could help it speed up its service or lower the cost of providing it. With a more modular and licensable IP core, if ARM can do the job, why not take a look at using it?”
The point is that ARM-based systems are much cheaper to build these days than they used to be, and so it could become much more cost-effective for Google in the long run, to go ahead and build its own. Even so, any plan would likely take several years before it came to fruition. Don’t forget that Google’s computing infrastructure is about as big and complex as it’s possible to have. While ARM-based chips could handle some workloads, it would still need an abundant supply of higher-performance X86 chips for heavier workloads. ARM chips might be able to fulfill that role one day, but it’s still some way off yet – hence, Intel probably won’t be too worried just yet.
Neither ARM or Intel would comment on the story, but Google spokeswoman Liz Markman did drop a few hints to Bloomberg when pressed on the matter.
“We are actively engaged in designing the world’s best infrastructure. This includes both hardware design (at all levels) and software design,” said Markman, though she refused to confirm that this includes chips.
In other words, of course Google is thinking about this, but the status quo is unlikely to change anytime soon.