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Axion Processor: Google Announces Its First Arm-Based CPU

MMS Founder
MMS Renato Losio

Article originally posted on InfoQ. Visit InfoQ

During the recent Google Next ’24 conference, Google unveiled Axion, its first custom Arm-based CPUs designed for data centers. Utilizing the Arm Neoverse V2 CPU architecture, the new processor will be available to customers later this year.

According to the cloud provider, Axion will deliver 30% better performance than the fastest general-purpose Arm-based instances available in the cloud. Additionally, it promises up to 50% better performance and up to 60% better energy efficiency than comparable current-generation x86-based instances. Amin Vahdat, engineering fellow and VP at Google, writes:

Axion is underpinned by Titanium, a system of purpose-built custom silicon microcontrollers and tiered scale-out offloads. Titanium offloads take care of platform operations like networking and security, so Axion processors have more capacity and improved performance for customer workloads. Titanium also offloads storage I/O processing to Hyperdisk, our new block storage service that decouples performance from instance size and that can be dynamically provisioned in real time.

Even if Google claims “giant leaps in performance for general-purpose workloads” no details or benchmarks have been provided. Google is the latest of the cloud hyperscalers developing an Arm-based custom processor, with Axion now competing with AWS Graviton, already at its fourth generation, and the recently announced Microsoft Cobalt. Matthew Kimball, technology analyst, writes:

So, the three largest cloud providers (AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud) have all become first-party silicon designers. And of course, Oracle Cloud is utilizing Ampere at scale. If you had any doubts about Arm’s standing in the datacenter CPU market – put them to rest.

Axion is built on the standard Armv9 architecture and instruction set and Google promises that customers will be able to use Axion in many managed services including Compute Engine, Kubernetes Engine, Dataproc, Dataflow, and Cloud Batch. Vahdat adds:

Google also has a rich history of contributions to the Arm ecosystem. We built and open sourced Android, Kubernetes, Tensorflow and the Go language, and worked closely with Arm and industry partners to optimize them for the Arm architecture.

On Hacker News, user soulbadguy comments:

Another interesting challenge for intel (and AMD to a lesser extent). Between the share of compute moving to AI accelerator (and NVIDIA), and most cloud providers having in-house custom chips, I wonder how Intel will position itself in the next 5 to 10 years.

Virtual machines based on Axion processors will only be available in preview in the coming months. User mtmail adds:

Eight testimonials and it’s clear the companies haven’t been able to test anything yet.

While the new processors are not yet available to customers, Google claims that several internal services, including BigTable, Spanner, BigQuery, Blobstore, Pub/Sub, Google Earth Engine, and the YouTube Ads platform, have already been migrated to Arm-based servers. No pricing information has been provided.

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