Escalating trade tensions between the US and China, rising geopolitical issues, increased tariffs, and uncertainties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic’s emergence last year have compelled server ODMs to actively shift their operations closer to clients as well as engage in risk mitigation strategies, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Taiwanese ODMs, in particular, are shifting their production bases away from domestic China and accelerating the installation of additional overseas production lines. TrendForce expects the share of servers manufactured in domestic China by global server ODMs to undergo a 7% YoY decrease this year as these ODMs shift their production bases mainly to Taiwan. Furthermore, Taiwanese ODMs are expected to account for about 90% of total server production this year.
On the other hand, server assembly operations, which are closely related to motherboard manufacturing operations, are also dynamically reserving their L6 capacities. Server assembly facilities located in New Mexico and the Czech Republic are gradually installing new production lines for server motherboards there. Inventec, Wistron (including Wiwynn), and Foxconn all currently possess sufficient motherboard manufacturing capacities for allocation as needed.
While future changes in the overall server supply chain remains to be seen, it should be pointed out that the migration of production bases pertaining to US companies is of particular importance. For instance, North American CSPs have requested their server ODM partners to migrate L6 assembly lines to locations such as Taiwan and Southeast Asia in response to potential geopolitical factors going forward. However, servers to be shipped to non-US regions will still be manufactured in China in accordance with prior plans. Aside from Google and Facebook, both of which have production lines in Taiwan, AWS and Microsoft have also transitioned their production lines to Taiwan.
Regarding major server ODMs’ current progress, most of them have installed new production lines in Taiwan, with Inventec, Wistron, Quanta, and Foxconn making the most headway. For instance, after installing three additional production lines in Guishan, Taoyuan at the end of 2020, Inventec currently operate a total of eight production lines, while Wistron has not only installed several spare production lines in the Southern Taiwan Science Park, but also planned to expand production bases in Southeast Asia at the end of 2021 for capacity allocation purposes. Quanta is aiming to capitalize on demand from 5G-related applications and data center build-outs by continually adjusting its production capacity for motherboards in Taiwan and Thailand. Finally, by expanding the physical capacity of its Taoyuan facility, Foxconn is able to avoid incurring tariffs for its North American clients’ L6 assembly operations.
While the server industry transitions to the latest generation of processors based on the x86 platform, the Intel Ice Lake and AMD Milan CPUs entered mass production earlier this year and were shipped to certain customers, such as North American CSPs and telecommunication companies, at a low volume in 1Q21, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations.
These processors are expected to begin seeing widespread adoption in the server market in 3Q21. TrendForce believes that Ice Lake represents a step-up in computing performance from the previous generation due to its higher scalability and support for more memory channels. On the other hand, the new normal that emerged in the post-pandemic era is expected to drive clients in the server sector to partially migrate to the Ice Lake platform, whose share in the server market is expected to surpass 30% in 4Q21.
Volume ramp of CPUs based on the Eagle Stream platform will likely take place in 2Q22, while AMD is expected to reach a 15% share in the server market next year
Regarding the mass production schedule of Intel CPUs based on the next-gen Eagle Stream platform, volume ramp is expected to occur in 2Q22. These processors, which feature embedded HBM, comprise a much more diverse product lineup compared to the previous generation. Although Intel’s 2Q22 target represents a slight delay from the market’s previous expectation of a 4Q21 ramp-up, Eagle Stream CPUs will enter the final product qualification stage at the end of 4Q21, after which Intel will begin provisioning certain leading customers with a small batch of these CPUs in 1Q22, according to TrendForce’s survey of server ODMs. As such, the mass production schedule of Sapphire Rapids will likely resemble the release of Ice Lake server processors earlier this year.
Genoa CPUs, AMD’s competitive equivalent of the Intel Eagle Stream, are expected to enter mass production on a similar schedule, since AMD’s wafer starts at the 5nm node have been relatively low-volume. AMD’s server processors manufactured at the 14nm node and below have the competitive advantage in terms of price-to-performance, core count, and interface support.
Furthermore, after progressing to the 7nm node, these processors have been seeing gradually increased adoption by various public cloud service providers, including Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, and Tencent, throughout 2021. AMD CPUs have currently surpassed a 10% penetration rate in these three CSPs’ servers. Going forward, AMD will begin inputting wafers at the 5nm node at the end of 2021 in order to further optimize its processors’ cost, power consumption, and performance. TrendForce therefore expects AMD CPUs to reach a 15% share in the global server market in 2022.
While the ARM architecture is starting to gain popularity, ARM chips are mostly built-to-order due to the relatively small scale of client demand
Processors based on the ARM architecture began seeing increased market penetration this year, with AWS’ self-designed Graviton chips enjoying the greatest market share. In addition, Ampere and Marvell have also been releasing more agile and flexible ARM-based server processors, validation for which by CSPs is expected to kick off in 4Q21. The server market, however, is still dominated by x86 processors, which currently account for 97% of total server processor shipments.
In particular, AMD has transitioned most of its server offerings to processors manufactured at the 7nm and 7nm+ nodes by increasing wafer inputs at these nodes and replacing its old 14nm product lineups. This transition has paid off, as some of AMD’s clients have gradually become receptive to these new products. On the other hand, ARM- and RISC-based processors are currently built to order, mostly for the data center market. TrendForce therefore believes that ARM CPUs will not be competitive with x86 CPUs in the server market before 2023.
Support will extend to include PCIe G5 and DDR5 RDIMM, while CXL will improve memory performance
It should be noted that Intel as the dominant leader in the market for x86 server CPUs has decided to have Eagle Stream support CXL (Compute Express Link). This interface further optimizes the memory coherence between the CPU and the memory components to which the CPU is connected. The processor platform thus has the ultimate function of establishing a memory pool for all computing units within the server through memory virtualization, even though this function is not notably emphasized in the initial establishment of the product specifications, which originally sought to enable high-bandwidth and low-latency data transfer for the CPU.
The memory pool, in turn, enhances the interconnections (or the data transfer efficiency) among the CPU, memory, GPU, ASIC, FPGA, etc. The new CXL interface will be able to offer significant improvements in terms of dealing with heavier workload in the future and conducting heterogeneous computing. Moreover, CXL will be able to overcome the limits imposed on the current hardware architecture with respect to data transfer and thereby enable more effective integrated computing capability.
The build-out of data centers continues to grow because of the emergence of applications related to AI and Big Data. Furthermore, the demand for larger cloud storage capacity has massively expanded as a result of enterprises’ increasingly rapid digital transformation efforts in the post-pandemic world. At the same time, with the increase in CPU core count, how to raise computing performance via memory optimization has now become an important issue. Eagle Stream can resolve this bottleneck by extending support to PCIe G5 for the SSD interface technology.
Compared with its predecessor, PCIe G5 offers twice the data transfer rate. Therefore, hyperscalers are eager to adopt SSDs based on this standard. As for DRAM, both Eagle Stream and Genoa extend support to the next-generation DDR5 server DRAM, which delivers a faster data transfer rate, making these new server CPUs superior to Ice Lake in all respects. NAND Flash and DRAM suppliers have made plans to commence mass production of PCIe G5 SSDs and DDR5 RDIMMs at the end of 2Q22 in anticipation of demand generated by the release of the Eagle Stream and Genoa platforms for these next-gen products.
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The “new normal” in the post-pandemic era has seen the meteoric rise of high-speed and high-bandwidth 5G applications, which subsequently brought about a corresponding increase in cloud services demand. As such, the global server shipment for 2021 will likely reach 13.6 million units, a 5.4% increase YoY. As commercial opportunities in white-box servers begin to emerge, Taiwanese ODMs, including Quanta, Wiwynn, and Foxconn are likely to benefit.
The prevailing business model of the server supply chain involves having the ODM responsible for the design, hardware installation, and assembly processes, after which servers are delivered to server brands (such as HPE, Dell, Inspur, and Lenovo), which then sell the servers to end-clients. In contrast, a new business model has recently started to emerge; this business model involves having server ODMs responsible for manufacturing specific and customized server hardware, available directly for purchase by such end-clients as cloud service providers, thereby bypassing brands as the middlemen.
With regards to market share, Foxconn accounts for nearly half of the total server demand from Microsoft Azure and from AWS, while Quanta accounts for about 60-65% of Facebook’s server demand.
According to TrendForce’s investigations, ODMs including Quanta, Inventec, Foxconn, Wiwynn, and QCT have all received server orders from clients in the cloud services sector in 1H21. In particular, both Quanta and Inventec received orders from Microsoft Azure, AWS, Facebook, and Google Cloud. With regards to market share, Foxconn accounts for nearly half of the total server demand from Microsoft Azure and from AWS, while Quanta accounts for about 60-65% of Facebook’s server demand, in turn giving Foxconn and Quanta the lion’s shares in the ODM market.
The aforementioned Taiwanese ODMs have been aggressive in growing their presence in the private industrial 5G network and edge computing markets, with Quanta subsidiary QCT being a good case in point as an ODM that supplies servers to both telecom operators and private industrial networks for these clients’ respective 5G infrastructures build-outs.
More specifically, QCT stated the following in a press release dated Jan. 4, 2021:
“Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT), a global data center solution provider, independently developed Taiwan’s first 5G standalone (SA) core network, which recently passed interoperability and performance verifications for 5G Open Network Lab operated by Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). The core network was successfully connected to partner radio access networks (RAN) and third-party user equipment, realizing end-to-end 5G signal transmission from edge to core and achieving significant acceleration in both uplink and downlink speeds.”
In response to the edge computing demand generated by global 5G commercialization efforts, Wiwynn recently released the EP100 server, which is a 5G edge computing solution compliant with the OCP openEDGE specification. Developed in collaboration with U.S.-based 5G software solutions provider Radisys, the EP100 can function as an O-DU or an O-CU depending on the various 5G RAN needs of telecom operators.
Furthermore, Wiwynn is continuing to develop the next generation of edge computing servers targeted at the enterprise networking and edge computing segments.
Foxconn, on the other hand, has been focusing on developing vertical solutions for private industrial 5G networks. Foxconn’s hardware infrastructure offerings include edge computing servers, TSN network switches, and gateways. The company also offers a slew of software solutions such as data management platforms and other apps, hosted by Asia Pacific Telecom. Last but not least, Foxconn recently announced an additional US$35.6 million investment in its Wisconsin project; this injection of capital will make the company well equipped to meet the demand for servers as well as 5G O-RAN and other telecom equipment.