Alibaba Cloud Takes on Amazon and Microsoft with New Server Chips

The server chips, named Yitian 710, are custom-built by Alibaba Group’s chip development business, T-Head. 

Alibaba Cloud is challenging the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft with the launch of a new in-house processor design for use in its data centres. 

The server chips, named Yitian 710, are custom-built by Alibaba Group’s chip development business, T-Head. Alibaba Cloud also announced the development of its proprietary servers, called Panjiu, which are powered by Yitian 710. (‘Yitian’ can mean ‘one day’ in Mandarin Chinese.)

“Customising our own server chips is consistent with our ongoing efforts toward boosting our computing capabilities with better performance and improved energy efficiency,” explains Jeff Zhang, President of Alibaba Cloud and Head of Alibaba DAMO Academy during the Apsara Conference, Alibaba’s annual technology flagship event.

Zhang adds: “Together with our global partners including Intel, NVIDIA, AMD and Arm, we will continue to innovate our compute infrastructure and offer diverse computing services for our global customers.”

Yitian 710 is built upon 5nm process technology and is powered by 128 Arm cores with 3.2GHz top clock speed. Each processor chip has 60 billion integrated transistors. Yitian 710 is the first server processor that is compatible with the latest Armv9 architecture and includes 8 DDR5 channels and 96-lane PCIe 5.0, providing high memory and I/O bandwidth.

According to Alibaba, Yitian 710 achieved a score of 440 in SPECint2017 (a standard benchmark to measure CPU integer processing power), surpassing that of the current Arm server processor by 20% in performance and 50% in energy efficiency.

There is no specific date as to when the server chips will be available to customers.

Alibaba Cloud was established in 2009 and has a global presence. It opened data centres in the UK back in 2018.

It is China’s leading provider of public cloud services by revenue in 2019, including PaaS and IaaS services, according to IDC. Alibaba Group is the world’s third leading and Asia Pacific’s leading IaaS provider by revenue in 2020 in US dollars, according to Gartner’s April 2021 report.

Today’s (19 October) news is part of the well-known US-Chinese rivalry in this sector. Baidu has plans for a semiconductor business, while Huawei designed its own smartphone chips. Google and Amazon Web Services will also build their own semiconductor chips.

Earlier this year, Microsoft joined Apple, Google, Amazon and several other tech companies to form the Semiconductors in America Coalition (SIAC).

According to Qichacha, a website that compiles corporate registration information, from January through May, China witnessed 15,700 new firms involved in everything from designing to manufacturing chips. This equates to treble the amount compared to the first five months of 2020.

Open-Source Initiatives

During the same keynote, Alibaba also announced that it will open the source code of the XuanTie IP core series, among other upcoming cores. The XuanTie series are Alibaba’s custom-built processors based on RISC-V instruction-set architecture. Developers can now access the source code of the XuanTie series IP cores on Github and Open Chip Community to build prototype chips of their own, which can be customised for IoT applications such as networking, gateway and edge servers.

In addition, XuanTie-related software stacks, which support various operating systems, including Linux, Android, RTOS and Alibaba’s own AliOS, will also be opened. Alibaba will provide more services and support for development tools, SDKs and customised cores in the future.

Alibaba released its first AI inference chip Hanguang 800 in 2019. The AI chip has been deployed in Alibaba Cloud’s data centres to power businesses in areas such as search, recommendation and live streaming.

Image of Yitian 710 courtesy of Alibaba Cloud.

Antony Peyton
Antony Peyton is the Editor of eWeek UK and has 17 years' journalism and writing experience. His career has taken him to China, Japan and the UK - covering tech, fintech and business. Follow on Twitter @TonyFintech.

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