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Alibaba Making Cloud OS Compatible With Multiple Chip Architectures

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Alibaba’s cloud computing unit is making its Apsara operating system compatible with processors based on Arm, x86, and RISC-V, among other architectures, the company has said.

According to market research firm IDC, Alibaba Cloud is one of the fastest-growing businesses for the Chinese e-commerce giant and the world’s fourth-largest public cloud service in the second half of 2020.

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“The IT ecosystem was traditionally defined by chips, but cloud computing fundamentally changed that,” Zhang Jianfeng, president of Alibaba Cloud’s Intelligence group, said at the conference on Friday.

“A cloud operating system can standardize the computing power of server chips, special-purpose chips and other hardware, so whether the chip is based on x86, Arm, RISC-V or a hardware accelerator, the cloud computing offerings for customers are standardized and of high-quality,” Jianfeng added.

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The global chip market has mostly been dominated by Intel’s x86 in personal computing and Arm for mobile devices.

But RISC-V, an open-source chip architecture competitive with Arma’s technologies, is gaining popularity around the world, especially with Chinese developers.

Started by academics at the University of California, Berkeley, RISC-V is open to all to use without licensing or patent fees and is generally not subject to America’s export controls.

The Trump Administration’s bans on Huawei and its rival ZTE over national security concerns have effectively severed ties between the Chinese telecom titans and American tech companies, including major semiconductor suppliers.

Arm was forced to decide its relationships with Huawei and said it could continue licensing to the Chinese firm as it’s of UK origin, the report said.

But Huawei still struggles to find fabs that are both capable and allowed to manufacture the chips designed using the architecture, it added.

The US sanctions led to a burst in activity around RISC-V in China’s tech industry as developers prepare for future tech restrictions by the US, with Alibaba at the forefront of the movement.

Alibaba Cloud, Huawei and ZTE are among the 13 premier members of RISC-V International, which means they get a seat on its Board of Directors and Technical Steering Community.

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