Apple seeks ‘upbeat’ x86 server hardware engineers

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Apple has tipped its hand by posting a job advert that reveals some details of the “next-generation” storage and server equipment it is building in its data centers.

The corporation has posted a cheery recruitment ad seeking to hire an “upbeat and hard-working hardware validation engineer to develop, implement, and complete hardware validation plans for Apple’s next generation Hyperscale and Storage Server platforms!”

The post points to the server hardware being powered by x86 processors, the very architecture Apple shunned for its PCs, which are moving to an in-house Arm-compatible architecture.

“We are looking for an engineer who has validated proficiency in testing Intel and/or AMD based server and storage hardware systems,” the ad reads.

While Arm servers are emerging as an alternative, x86 chips generated over 90 per cent of server revenue in the second half of 2021, according to IDC.

Apple’s “next-generation” server hardware points to upgrades in its data centers. Meta is deploying new servers based on AMD chips in data centers to power its metaverse future, and some cloud providers are upgrading infrastructure to support cloud gaming and 5G applications. Amazon and Google, meanwhile, said they are holding back at least some backend equipment upgrades for a year to save billions of dollars.

It’s possible that Apple is working with AMD and/or Intel to build custom x86 server processors that would require specialized testing

It’s hard to identify a particular application stack the next-generation Apple servers would be for, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“I do think it’s possible that Apple is working with AMD and/or Intel to build custom x86 server processors that would require specialized testing,” he added.

It’s worth noting that various Apple chip designers quit to form Nuvia after apparently asking to craft a homegrown server processor for the iCloud giant and being shot down by Steve Jobs and other executives. Now Nuvia, which wanted to produce Arm-based data center processors, is owned by Qualcomm, which wants to use the blueprints for personal devices.

Apple is providing more on-device processing capabilities for the likes of Siri – taking advantage of local processing power without having to shuttle everything to and from a remote server – though we can imagine data center hardware upgrades will be needed to provide backend services for markets Apple perhaps intends to enter, such as AR/VR and autonomous cars.

Incidentally, the iGiant last month posted a job opening for a radar specialist with experience in embedded controllers and Nvidia GPUs, which screams self-driving vehicles to us.

Will Apple make its next-generation x86 servers available to customers? Not likely, but it could be made available through cloud service providers. Apple recently made its M1 Mac Mini with the ARM-powered M1 chip available on Amazon’s cloud service.

Knowledge of Linux is a requirement in the server specialist job post. Apple’s current data center hardware configuration remains a mystery; though it has used Unix-based IBM AIX and Sun Solaris servers in the past, it’s assumed Linux is in wide use in its fleet.

Apple’s last legitimate server product, the x86-based Xserve, was discontinued [PDF] in 2011 after the company shunned its enterprise focus and morphed into a consumer company with the iPad and iPhone. Apple, at the time, pointed consumers to move over to the Mac Pro, which had an Intel Xeon processor, or the Mac Mini, which had an Intel Core part. The systems could be used with Apple’s MacOS X Snow Leopard server OS. ®

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