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A Cray XC supercomputer in Lugano, Switzerland. (Cray Photo)

The strongest effort yet to see server processors based on Arm cores infiltrate the data center is well underway, and Cray announced plans Monday to add powerful 64-bit Arm processors from Cavium to one of its supercomputers.

Cray will use Cavium’s ThunderX2 processors in a version of its XC50 supercomputer scheduled to arrive in the second quarter of 2018, Cray said in a press release Monday. It will also ship a number of different software tools optimized for the Arm architecture along with those machines, which it is working on with potential customers like the U.S. Department of Energy.

Intel’s domination of the data center is well understood at this point, and the company’s chips also power 94 percent of the supercomputers on the closely watched Top 500 list, a new version of which was also released Monday. But server vendors have long been interested in seeing more competition in this space, and new 64-bit server processors based on Arm’s core designs are starting to appear in new systems.

Last week Qualcomm announced general availability of its Centriq 2400 server processor, which Microsoft is expected to use in its Azure data centers. It’s going to be a long time before we can say for sure whether or not Arm has finally managed to challenge Intel’s lead in this market after years of promises, but the new systems appear to represent the best shot of achieving that goal in decades.

The Next Platform obtained some benchmarks on Cavium’s new processors indicating they outperform Intel’s latest chips on certain tasks, but benchmark results always need to carry a “your mileage may vary” warning when evaluating these massive and expensive machines. Cray XC50 customers will be able to mix and match Arm processors with Intel processors when assembling their systems next year.

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