Oracle database to run on Ampere Computing’s Arm chips in new coup at Intel and x86

Oracle has announced that its flagship database software will now run on processors using the Arm architecture after signing a deal with cloud chipmaker Ampere Computing. The software was previously designed to run exclusively on Intel x86 architecture-based chips, and the news is a new blow for Intel, with the number of enterprise IT vendors embracing Arm for their data center and cloud platforms growing.

Oracle founder Larry Ellison believes Arm-based chips like those developed by Ampere Computing are the future. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Customers will be able to choose to run their databases on Oracle’s cloud using the Amperes Altra family of processors, the company announced in an overnight blog post. Those using local databases will also be able to push them to servers running Ampere chips if they choose.

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Founded in 2018 by a group of Intel engineers led by Renee James, the chip giant’s former president, Ampere specializes in cloud-computing processors that use the low-power, high-efficiency ARM architecture rather than x86.

His designs have already proven popular with hyperscale cloud providers, with Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud both offering Ampere-based servers to their customers. Oracle is also a longtime fan of the company and has invested more than $400 million in recent years. Ampere filed for IPO and in May launched its new AmpereOne family of processors, the company’s first entirely in-house design (previous designs are based on standard Arm designs).

Today’s announcement highlights the large architectural shift in the market toward Ampere processors that meet the needs of today’s cloud and on-premises environments, said Jeff Wittich, chief product officer at Ampere. With the Ampere Altra processor family, customers of the world’s most popular Oracle Database now have a high-performance, energy-efficient architecture built with sustainability in mind for organizations of all sizes.

Oracle’s adoption of Arm-based semiconductors reflects a broader trend of the company’s designs, which have traditionally been delivered to the mobile device market, making inroads into data center PCs and servers. Apple now makes its own chips based on the Arm architecture, and Amazon’s Graviton processors, which it uses in its AWS cloud data centers, are built on designs by the British designer.

All of this is bad for Intel, a pioneer of the x86 architecture that has traditionally dominated in PCs and data centers but is plummeting in popularity among cloud providers. That said, x86 still rules the roost according to data from research firm Omdia, released last year, which shows Arm chips have a 7 percent share of the data center processor market. However, this is up from less than 1% in 2019.

Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, was forthright in his assessment of the two architectures. Speaking at an Ampere event yesterday, Ellison said he believes chips from companies like Ampere are the future. Intel’s older x86 architecture, after many decades on the market, is reaching its limit, Ellison said, describing the partnership with Ampere as a major commitment.

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Ellison and Oracle spend billions of dollars on Nvidia GPUs

Ellison also used the Ampere event to lift the lid on Oracle’s chip buying strategy. The company has been trying to make inroads into the cloud market by offering database services that meet the needs of AI companies and those running AI workloads. The recent AI boom, sparked by OpenAIs ChatGPT, has seen increased demand for cloud services that can handle high-performance workloads.

Thus, Ellison said that Oracle is spending a lot of money on GPUs from Nvidia, the company that supplies the hardware that underpins the vast majority of large AI models. Its top-of-the-line AI GPU, the A100, retails for over $10,000 a chip.

This year, Oracle will buy GPUs and CPUs from three companies, Ellison said. We will buy GPUs from Nvidia and buy billions of dollars of them. We will spend triple on CPUs from Ampere and AMD. We spend even more on conventional computing.

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