Why AMD’s energy efficiency milestone is important to the emerging cloud desktop

As the pandemic continues to re-shape how (and where) we work, energy efficiency efforts by chipmakers could renew the push for a virtual desktop ecosphere. That would be a win for companies, users and cloud providers alike.

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AMD this week announced it had exceeded its goal to increase energy efficiency 25-fold by 2020.  Called the 25x20 goal, it has been a driving force for the company for most of the last decade and explains why cloud providers like Google have begun to favor AMD processors. 

But the real importance will show up as we move to universal VDI or what I call the emergence of the cloud desktop market and products like Virtual Windows, which have been particularly helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Let’s revisit the benefits of a cloud desktop in the new social-distancing world in which we now live and look at why this milestone is so crucial to both AMD and for all the employees now working from home. 

COVID best practices for the pivot

In reviewing the companies that were best able to deal with the rapid shift to working from home, those that stood out already had a substantial number of remote workers. This result wasn’t only true of corporations; schools and government agencies benefitted as well.

Cisco demonstrated in Italy that regional governments such as Turin were able to pivot almost overnight because they had already been supporting mobile communications and had an existing partnership in place when the pandemic arrived earlier this year. BlackBerry spoke to those in government who had deployed remote communications and management tools to find out what they used to pivot to remote more quickly. Lenovo acquired LanSchool, which created customized programs for remote learning that could be used to make the shift to home-schooling. (Teachers said the tool made them feel less like underequipped babysitters and more like teachers.)

In each case, the benefits arose from both the existing engagement and tools specifically designed to provide centralized support for a distributed workforce.  That’s why VDI – what I’m calling the cloud desktop – is potentially one of the most powerful tools for a distributed workforce this market has likely ever seen. Ironically, once deployed, it is very reminiscent of the IBM mainframe. I am expecting IBM to eventually pivot to this opportunity as well.

Cloud desktop

The Cloud Desktop is an extension of the thin client that many expected to take over the market in the 1990s. Tepid industry support and network latency kept it from becoming the work-from-home panacea originally envisioned. However, it has continued to evolve with products like Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop. The arrival of 5G networking, which Qualcomm has showcased, can serve as an adequate alternative to high-speed wired connections and was designed with exceptionally low latency. It opens up the capabilities of the cloud desktop significantly. 

Typical benefits are centralized control and security, a lowered desktop hardware requirement – cutting the cost of equipping an employee’s or student’s remote office or classroom significantly. Users, in turn, get a tool they can access with any browser-enabled connected device and a reduction in the support load a remote user would generally have to deal with.  Teachers get far greater control over student desktops and, with much of the workload being handled in the cloud, students get a more terminal/TV like appliance experience. 

Even so, to provision large numbers of cloud desktops, you need a lot of processing power. And that means dealing with heat and energy requirements, with hard limits on density in already massive centralized data centers running these cloud services. 

AMD’s benefit

I’ve been hearing that many cloud providers are thinking of switching to AMD and that a good deal of the reason for that has been an industry-leading effort to trim their processors’ power requirements.  As these cloud providers build out to address this new virtual desktop opportunity, they need these power efficiency improvements to optimize their space and reduce the need to expand data centers and boost data center cooling.

By using AMD’s latest power-efficient processors, they can expand into new areas like cloud desktops without having to prematurely expand their physical plants, saving millions of dollars while simultaneously reducing complexity and overhead. 

This AMD advantage positions it exceedingly well for what may be the most significant data center expansion we have yet seen as the market again pivots to products like Virtual Windows. 

Wrapping up

With this new COVID-19 work-from-home normal, we need to rethink how we provision corporate desktops. Already, companies like Microsoft are stepping up with products like the Windows Virtual Desktop.  But infrastructure has to improve as well. Qualcomm’s driving 5G into the market will certainly help, but it is AMD’s advances in energy savings, which provide for far higher technology density, that may be the missing link to making this all real. 

I expect, by mid-decade, most of us will not only have adjusted to the new normal but will be doing it with a solution that has at its heart Qualcomm’s 5G effort and AMD’s power-optimized solutions.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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