Microsoft has poached a prominent chip architect from Apple as a sign of its growing chipmaking ambitions.
Chip architect Mike Filippo left Apple and joined Microsoft as part of the company’s effort to design internal chips for data centers running its cloud, according to a Bloomberg report. The report states that the former Apple employee works on central processing units (CPUs) for Microsoft. The move signals that the software giant is moving forward with plans to build local chips for the servers that power its Azure cloud.
The focus on custom chips follows similar efforts by Alphabet’s Google and Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s main rivals in the cloud computing market. They’re pulling pages from Apple’s playbook, replacing standard Intel-designed server chips in favor of local chips designed the way they want.
Why spend several years and tens of millions of dollars designing a chip? It is estimated that AWS, Google, and Microsoft each operate millions of servers spread around the world in colossal data centers that they use internally and lease to millions of outside companies through the cloud. Even small performance increases or improvements in chip power and cooling cost add up in the context of their vast operations.
Amazon has designed a wide range of chips for its AWS cloud computing unit, including a line of Arm-based processors called Graviton. AWS has aggressively marketed the price/performance ratio of its Graviton chip, which it claims also uses less power than Intel’s server processors for data centers. Last year, Google said it hired a senior executive from Intel’s design engineering group, Uri Frank, to lead its growing new server chip unit.
The change threatens to undermine Intel and AMD, which provide the chips for its Azure cloud computing service.
When Apple poached Filippo in 2019, the move was widely seen as a boon to the company’s efforts to extract more performance from its A-series system-on-chip (SoC) for the iPhone and deploy the M1 chip for Macs.
Apple was an early player in the tech industry in internal chips, and it has transformed into a powerhouse in the chip business. The consumer electronics giant is moving away from Intel chips in favor of its in-house “Apple Silicon” chips, including the revolutionary M1 found in its mid-range laptops and tablets. Last year, it upped the ante with the M1 “Pro” and M1 “Max” chips for the MacBook Pro.
Filippo worked for Apple for about three years after spending a decade as a senior processor architect and senior system architect at Arm, which sells Apple’s in-house chip core blueprints for its Mac iPhones and others. consumer devices. Prior to Arm, he was a chip designer at Intel and AMD early in his career. He currently works as Chief IT Architect at Microsoft, according to to his LinkedIn profile.
The departure is a blow to Apple, which recently lost another top chip designer, Jeff Wilcox, to Intel. Wilcox was one of the engineers who helped design Apple’s custom Mac chips for its laptops and desktops.