Lakshmi Mandyam, ARM director of Server Systems and Ecosystems, said on last week that ODMs are looking to standardize on both a single operating system and a single chip architecture across their product stacks. In other words, they want a single chip that can scale from a smartphone to a server and one OS like Linux to rule them all. Vendors are finding this idea "very interesting".
"In the industry there is a trend back towards vertical integration where if you look [back] 20 years [they] did their own ASIC, they did everything themselves and then after that it migrated to outsourced [then] to merchant silicon, but I think people are seeing a benefit for integrating again," Mandyam said.
As an example, China-based Huawei uses ARM-based chips in its smartphones, its set-top boxes, network routers, and base stations. The company also has plans to use ARM-based chips in their servers in the near future. But ARM's architecture can also scale down to the extreme low, allowing device makers to integrate the chip into their products, she said.
Even more, Linux can be just as flexible, scaling up to an enterprise level and down to an integration level. Mandyam told The Inquirer in a brief interview that firms are working with Linaro's Enterprise Working Group to have some influence on the direction of enterprise Linux deployment. They see the open-source, scalable platform as a key component to a cost-effective server.
"If you look at who is participating in Linaro's enterprise group, you have end users like Facebook that are participating as well, because they see the value of getting involved early and it really shortens the time to market," she said. "If you think about the Linux kernel, it's all standardized - based on the ARM architecture. Everyone, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel at different times, you have everyone cooperating."
Mandyam also acknowledged that businesses need to maintain differentiation in order to stay competitive, and Linux allows them to do that. Just look at Google's Android and Canonical's Ubuntu – both are based on Linux at the core, but appear as totally different products on the surface. Google's ultimate goal is to have Android/Chrome OS everywhere: on laptops, in cars, in HDTVs, and in kitchen appliances.
Ultimately using both a Linux-based operating system and ARM's architecture across a stack of devices could cut costs and increase profits for ODMs. Since Linux is open-source, it doesn't cost a thing to ODMs. But will this method reduce consumer choice? Will it inhibit innovation? It certainly leaves Intel and AMD out of the picture.
The interview arrives after ARM said in March that CEO Warren East will retire in July. He took the reins of ARM back in 2001 and has successfully steered the company into changing the mobile market, providing its non-x86 architecture to more than 300 chip customers. In 2012 alone, 9 billion chips were made using the company's technology.
Beginning July 1, current president Simon Segars will take his place. Unnamed sources warn that market watchers need to keep a close eye on what he does in the next few years, as he could steer the company into actually creating hardware, thus changing the computing market once again. Mandyam's talk of a single-chip/single-OS package could be what ARM is shopping around for feedback, a single modifiable, scalable solution that ODMs could insert into their products.