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.
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.