Google Cloud rolls out self-designed Arm chips in its data centers

A Google Axion Processor.
Enlarge / A Google Axion Processor.


Google is joining the custom Arm data center chip trend. Google Cloud, the cloud platform division that competes with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, is following in the footsteps of those companies and rolling out its own Arm-based chip designs. Google says its new “Google Axion Processors” are “custom Arm-based CPUs designed for the data center” and offer “industry-leading performance and energy efficiency.”

Google has been developing custom data center accelerators for things like AI and video transcoding, but this is the first time the company is making a CPU. Google says it’s seeing “50% better performance and up to 60% better energy-efficiency than comparable current-generation x86-based instances.

Google’s “Axion” chip is based on the Arm Neoverse V2 CPU, so just like the ARM chips we see on mobile devices, by making “custom” chips, these companies are closely following a lot of blueprints that Arm makes available. Google says it did include a custom microcontroller called “Titanium,” which it says handles networking, security, and storage I/O.

This is Google Cloud, so you won’t be buying anything with an “Axion” chip in it. You can pay for cloud processing that uses the new CPU, with Google naming “Google Compute Engine, Google Kubernetes Engine, Dataproc, Dataflow, Cloud Batch, and more” as services that will use the new chip. Some of these services bill by “vCPU” usage, so theoretically a faster CPU could lead to lower prices, but Google doesn’t spell that out in the post. Internally Google is also moving BigTable, Spanner, BigQuery, Blobstore, Pub/Sub, Google Earth Engine, and the YouTube Ads platform from its current Arm servers to this new custom one soon.

It’s a bit strange to tout a new cloud infrastructure CPU when the whole point of services like AWS and Google Cloud is that you don’t have to worry about the server. The services you were running will continue to run, while companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft can take care of all that complicated hardware and network data center stuff. Google says that Axion VMs will be available as a “preview” in “the coming months” and that Cloud customers can sign up for access.

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