As the struggle between China and the United States continues, in order to avoid upcoming geopolitical risks, not only have Taiwanese ODM manufacturers begun to shift some production locations, but market research firm TrendForce has also observed that American OEM companies have started to take action, discussing with partners how to reduce the proportion of Chinese supply chains and components.
TrendForce points out that, at present, American cloud service providers (CSPs) and OEM manufacturers have not yet been able to completely cut ties with Chinese-produced components. Among these, passive components and mechanical assemblies are more difficult to relocate due to factors such as cost and yield. However, other components (such as PCBs and power management control ICs) have plans to move out of China.
But where will these component manufacturers go if they want to move out of China? According to TrendForce’s analysis, PCB manufacturers are currently eyeing shifts to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India; power management ICs and control ICs have already moved out of China and relocated to Taiwanese factories; mechanical assemblies and MLCC capacities still mainly come from China, with the former being requested to move but facing challenges due to cost and yield considerations.
TrendForce notes that the aforementioned production line and material shifts are primarily led by American CSPs. The overall server supply chain’s subsequent changes still need to be observed. For example, major players like Google, AWS, and Meta have not only moved most of their L6 production lines to Taiwan but also plan to establish bases in Southeast Asia after 2024 to handle cases within the United States, and reserve flexible production lines along the US-Mexico border, which will significantly increase utilization within this year.
According to TrendForce, the consumer electronics market will feel the brunt of the weakening stay-at-home economy, the pandemic in China, international tensions, and rising inflation in 1H22. Coupled with the traditional off-season, demand for relevant applications such as PCs, laptops, TVs, and smartphones has cooled significantly and downstream customers have successively downgraded their shipment targets for the year, while demand for automotive, Internet of Things, communications, and servers products remain good. At the same time, the supply chain will build higher inventories in general to mitigate the risk of material shortages due to transportation impediments induced by the spread of the pandemic and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
Due to the prolonged lead-time of semiconductor equipment and limited new capacity in 1Q22, the overall foundry capacity utilization rate remains fully loaded, in particular, component mismatch issues continue for parts produced at mature nodes (1Xnm~180nm). Looking forward to the second quarter, although growth in global wafer production capacity remains limited, due to weak demand for end products, continuing international tension, and China’s forced lockdowns and supervision due to the recent spread of the pandemic, there is an opportunity for the supply chain to obtain a more adequate supply of wafers that were previously squeezed by production capacity.
The overall supply of key server materials improved slightly in 1Q22. In addition, due to increasing orders from ultra-large data centers, the general supply cycle of NetCom chips such as LAN IC/chip remains as long as approximately 40 weeks but the demand gap can be bridged by instituting urgent order fees, mitigating actual impact. As the aforementioned situation eases, additional orders for ODM motherboard production are moving briskly, prompting continued stocking of FPGAs and PMICs materials. NetCom chips are also overstocked and the overall market has a reached a “rich get richer” mindset. Material shortages at second-tier ODMs still stifle the production of motherboards for a small number of customers but does not affect the overall server market supply. With improvements in material supply, server shipments will increase significantly in 2Q22, growing an estimated 15.8% QoQ to 3.6 million units.
Affected by sluggish seasonal demand, the Russian-Ukrainian war, and rising inflation, market demand has cooled. Thus, material delivery issues in the supply chain have eased compared to 2H21. Although there is still a shortage of certain components, most of these shortages are concentrated in mid/low-end smartphone products. The lead time for 4G and low-end 5G SoCs is approximately 30 to 40 weeks, which is limited by production capacity planning. Since last year, the demand of the mid/low-end mobile phone market has not been met. This is followed by A+G sensors with a lead time of approximately 32~36 weeks and OLED DDIC and Touch IC with a lead time of 20~22 weeks. The production volume of smartphones in 2Q22 will be affected by the interaction of the aforementioned factors with a forecast production volume of 323 million units, or only 6% QoQ, which is lower than the performance of previous years.
Also affected by weakening end market demand, discounting client SSDs that are no longer oversupplied, Type C IC, WiFi, and PMIC all currently boast long lead times, with Type C IC the lengthiest at 20~25 weeks. However, compared with TrendForce’s assessment at the beginning of this year, the delivery cycle has not grown longer, so the lead time of these three types of products is expected to improve by the end of 2Q22. As supply chain backlog continues to improve, shipments of notebook computers (including Chromebooks) is expected to reach approximately 55.1 million units in 2Q22, down 0.7% QoQ.
5. MLCC Passive Components
From the perspective of other key components, taking MLCC as an example, demand for major consumer electronic products such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs declined significantly in 1Q22, resulting in high consumer product specification MLCC inventory levels held by original suppliers and channel agents and this situation may continue into 2Q22. At present, the stocking momentum for automotive and industrial MLCCs has steadily increased, while consumer specification products have yet to escape the pattern of oversupply. In 2Q22, the MLCC market has the opportunity to alleviate its component mismatch issues through gradually increased production capacity and automotive and server ICs supplied by semiconductor IDM companies, driving stocking momentum at automotive power, server, fast charging, and charging/energy storage equipment OEMs. Vehicle and industrial MLCCs have the opportunity to become primary growth drivers in 2Q22 with Murata, TDK, Taiyu and Yageo as the primary beneficiaries. Consumer specification products, which account for the bulk of MLCC production from suppliers in Taiwan, South Korea, and China, may face continued market demand weakness in 2Q22 due to a slowdown in demand for mobile phones and laptops and continuing inventory adjustment by branded companies and ODMs.
Looking forward to 2Q22, not including servers, demand for end products related to the consumer category remains weak. Components that were originally oversupplied will face more severe price tests due to the imbalance between supply and demand. In terms of materials in serious short supply, more output will be transferred to products with strong demand through the deployment of internal production capacity. TrendForce believes that from the changes in PC market conditions, it can be seen in rapid changes in demand, purchasing behavior has quickly switched from the former over-ordering strategy to actively cutting orders, inducing supply chains to buck the seasonal trends of previous years. Due to the accelerated recent spread of Omicron in China and under the country’s dynamic zero-COVID policy, mandatory and sudden lockdown and control measures may cause local manufacturers to face multiple and complex supply chain problems, which will be detrimental to market performance.
According to TrendForce research, corporate demand for digital transformation including artificial intelligence and high-performance computing has accelerated in recent years, which has led to increasing adoption of cloud computing. In order to improve service flexibility, the world’s major cloud service providers have gradually introduced ARM-based servers. The penetration rate of ARM architecture in data center servers is expected to reach 22% by 2025.
In the past few years, ARM architecture processors have matured in the fields of mobile terminals and Internet of Things but progress in the server field has been relatively slow. However, companies have diversified cloud workloads in recent years and the market has begun to pay attention to the benefits ARM architecture processing can provide to data centers. TrendForce believes that ARM-based processors have three major advantages. First, they can support diverse and rapidly changing workloads and are more scalability and cost-effective. Second, ARM-based processors provide higher customization for different niche markets with a more flexible ecosystem. Third, physical footprint is relatively small which meets the needs of today’s micro data centers.
Influenced by geopolitics and the strengthening of data sovereignty in various countries, major cloud service providers and telecom operators are actively developing micro data centers which will further drive the penetration of ARM-based processors. At the same time, from the perspective of cloud service providers currently adopting ARM-based processors, Graviton, led by AWS, has the largest market scale and began encroaching gradually into the market in 2021. TrendForce also observed that AWS’s deployment of ARM-based processors in 2021 reached 15% of overall server deployment and will exceed 20% in 2022. This forces other major cloud service providers to keep up by initiating their own projects at various foundries. If testing is successful, these projects are expected to start mass introduction in 2025.
In addition, according to the Neoverse Platform plan previously released by ARM, its Platform Roadmap will also be one of the key drivers of penetration. This product line is set up to target ultra-large-scale data centers and edge computing infrastructure. However, it is worth mentioning, since x86 is still mainstream in the market and ARM-based server CPU suppliers only maintain small-batch production orders at this stage and primarily focus on ultra-large-scale data centers, introduction of ARM-based servers into enterprise data centers will be slow going. Thus, TrendForce believes that it will still be difficult for ARM-based servers to compete with x86-based servers before 2025.
The new normal ushered in by the pandemic will not only become the driving force of digital transformation but will also continue to drive the server market in 2022, according to TrendForce’s investigations. It is worth noting that potential unmet demand in 2021 and the risk of future server component shortages will become medium and long-term variables that influence the market. Analyzing the shipment volume of completed servers, a growth rate of approximately 4-5% in completed server shipments is expected next year with primary shipment dynamics remaining concentrated in North American data centers with an annual growth rate of approximately 13-14%. From the supply chain perspective, the ODM Direct business model has gradually replaced the business model of the traditional server market, giving cloud service providers the ability to respond quickly to market changes. However, based on the unpredictability of the market, TrendForce assumes two forecasts for server growth trends. One, the supply situation of key components is effectively improved. Two, the supply situation of key components is exacerbated.
TrendForce states, based on the current situation as materials issues ease quarter by quarter, the annual growth rate of server shipments in 2022 will reach 4~5%. There are three primary factors driving market momentum. First, the introduction of the Intel Sapphire Rapids and AMD Genoa platforms into the market may once again stimulate the replacement of enterprise client servers and infrastructure construction in data centers. Second, the market generally believes that transformational needs generated by the pandemic in 2022, such as shifts in working paradigms and the new normal, will continue to drive the cloud market. Furthermore, international tensions have led to geopolitical uncertainty, which in turn has encouraged countries to tighten their control over data sovereignty and prompting the emergence of small-scale data centers in specific geographic locations.
Actual shipment volume of completed servers in 2022 depends on improvement of supply chain issues
Based on the two aforementioned assumptions, if the pandemic is effectively controlled next year, and international logistics, satisfaction of materials demand, and other factors either return to normal or fare better than expected, server companies will be able to increase their shipping capabilities and the annual growth rate of shipments in the overall server market will be able to reach 5-6% while the annual growth rate of ODM-Direct will approach 15%, up from the original forecast 13%. However, if the pandemic intensifies next year, the overall global economy will continue under that dark cloud which will greatly affect the willingness of companies to invest. In that case, the estimated annual growth rate of server shipments will fall to only 3-4%. In addition, the growth momentum of North American data centers will also be affected leading to an annual growth rate of ODM-Direct of only 10%, approximately.
As a whole and continuing under the influence of the two-year pandemic, the business trend of flexible deployment is irreversible. Regardless of overall economic changes, TrendForce expects double-digit growth in the demand for ODM-direct servers next year while overall server demand will also maintain a positive growth trajectory. However, continued attention should be focused on issues related to server order fulfillment in the broader market, including the fulfillment rate of key PMIC and LAN chip materials. At the same time, another major market variable will be whether Intel and AMD can introduce their two new platforms as scheduled next year and inject additional momentum into equipment replacement.
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In light of rapid advancements in 5G, AI, cloud computing, and cloud services, TrendForce has observed that, since 2012, the widespread adoption of smartphones has brought about the emergence of certain new applications such as smartphone apps that leverage backend server support. Furthermore, enterprise cloud migration has noticeably accelerated after digital transformation activities began taking place in 2016. As a result, widespread data center deployments took center stage as the industry mainstream prior to 2020.
Moving into 2021, however, one of the many impacts of 5G commercialization on the market has to do with the regional deployment of infrastructures (i.e., small-scale data centers). This trend towards local deployment can be primarily attributed to the increasing stringency of personal data protection laws by governments worldwide that emphasize both the residency and the sovereignty of consumer data. Major public cloud companies are now beginning to establish cloud deployments closer to regions that represent sources of data generation, in order to deliver faster data analysis that is still in accordance with the law.
TrendForce’s observations on the build-out of data centers can be divided into the individual and enterprise aspects. With regards to the former, as connected devices become increasingly widespread and emerging content services more popular in the post-pandemic stay-at-home economy, consumer spending on streaming videos and online shopping began to experience a rapid spike, thereby contributing to a gradual increase in server build-outs for cloud services. Enterprises, on the other hand, have been seeking and deploying more flexible infrastructures in response to pandemic-induced uncertainties. Hence, certainly subscription services and hybrid cloud services have also been gaining momentum in the ongoing trend of cloud migration.
It should be noted that, due to recent geopolitical tensions, which intimately dictate the development of various countries’ industries and supply chains, global enterprises also face rapidly changing market needs as well as a high degree of uncertainties stemming from the pandemic. In turn, enterprise demand for cloud services has also seen a continued rise in the past two years. With respect to the adoption of AI and other emerging technologies, most enterprises prefer cloud services due to such services’ flexible cost structures. TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that flexible pricing strategies and diverse services offered by data centers have directly propelled the demand from enterprises for cloud applications in the past two years. From the perspective of the server supply chain, these shifts have facilitated a gradual shift of the predominant business model in the server market from traditional server brands to ODM Direct.
In addition, data center-related technologies have also progressed significantly. As the way people work and live transforms, accompanied by the emergence of e-commerce and streaming media, enterprises have also become increasingly well-versed in cloud services and increasingly able to leverage related technologies. As such, the primary sources of competition in the cloud market will include not only infrastructures responsible for computing, storage, and networking, but also emerging technologies such as edge computing and software/hardware integration of related services by major operators. In particular, as 5G services successively kick into gear worldwide, the concept of “cloud-edge-local network” will begin to replace the current “cloud only” framework on a massive scale, thereby extending the relevant commercial opportunities from cloud services to hardware vendors. That is to say, in the future, cloud services will no longer be limited to the software front, as in-house hardware brands from CSPs are set to become the next battlefield while these companies compete to offer comprehensive services.
All of this raises the question of whether the build-out of data centers will involve more challenges and opportunities going forward. TrendForce believes that, in addition to factors such as telecommuting and e-commerce, data center demand from biomedical applications (for instance, the ramp-up of vaccinations) will also experience substantial growth, with the caveat that regulations governing the protection and collection of medical data will be even more stringent than those driving various countries’ data sovereignty endeavors. Hence, privacy and security pertaining to medical data will likely become not only a global pursuit, but also a significant challenge facing the application of data centers.
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