48mil does seem low to be able to design a chip that will go against a 10 core Xeon or 16 core MagnyCour. The adoption will happen slowly even if they are able to design a good chip that could compete. They should look for a market that wouldn't be as hard to enter, just so they could get more money before they try to take on the big boys in the server market.
The minimalistic budged aside, I'm sure there is demand for these specialized architectures.
However I can't imagine entire data centers running only on ARM powered devices that have been engineered to do one thing extremely efficient.
A scenario would be rendering HTML5 pages, but a year from now the big players decide to add something and make revision 5.1 that won't work with the existing hardware (or run very inefficient).
I suppose in the end it will depend on the companies cost/benefit requirements. If for example a Xenon can render 100 pages in a set time, and the specialized hardware can do 10000 with the same power draw even if they have to replace the HW within 2 years, it might just be feasible.
The idea here is that you can also add more ARM CPU's in less space then conventional x86 systems. Just imagine your smart-phone is housing a CPU, memory, permanent storage (usually SD flash), battery and a big nice display to show it all off. The CPU itself is ultra tiny and use's very little power with almost no head load (comparatively). This makes it ideal for massive multiprocessing. With the right architectural engineering you can throw 16 or more of these cores, hell 32 might be possibly in a year or so, on a single blade. Putting dozens and dozens of blades together and you can easily establish a mini-super computer that uses incredibly small amounts of power and can be easily reconfigured for any task. You would "upgrade" by swapping out blades or just adding more since ARM is an architecture not a specific CPU. And the best part is you can easily turn off single CPUs or entire cards if their power isn't being used or otherwise needed where as current CISC x86 CPUs struggle with that due their monolithic architecture.
Every 5 or 10 years we hear big processor news about risc is going to really take off and replace some sector currently dominated by cisc. It hasn't happened yet. I remember risc discussions were all the rage in the 90's on FIDOnet before this whole internet thing really got going... Some things never change.
I bet the duke nukem forever servers will all be risc based arm processors...
ARM chips could have a great co-existence with the current data center hardware with 3 markets:
1. IPMI processors - this could be the first break-in point. Currently, server manufacturers use some pretty bad hardware for this purpose. With ARM chips, it could be done with an industry standard, less power, and easier maintenance.
2. hardware acceleration for RAID arrays - current chips used in RAID arrays have less calculation speed and use far more power than ARM chips. this could be the second break-in point
3. IP KVM management - for those systems without IPMI, management can be trouble, and many don't even like KVMs (like IBM P series machines and many HPUX machines) Having a system with constant responses for the keyboard and mouse being connected, so the system doesn't drop keyboard and mouse support, would be vital for constant support. An ARM based machine could maintain this and allow for remote IP KVM management that could be handled from any other computer. It would save a whole lot of frustration for admins.
Sure, doing mainstream server duties would be nice for an ARM based system, but that will take a while to break in. Using these markets to break in first would be a smarter decision. Then, once the company is profitable, start pushing for high duties. This is how Intel got into the server industry, starting way back with 286 machines being used as local access terminals.
Instead of developing ARM based architecture to compete against Intel and AMD in the server market they should develop an all in one server appliance. As much as I can't stand anything Apple I feel that creating a low cost, low power web server appliance along the concept line of an "iserver" would be a winner. This product would come with everything needed right out of the box, just add your pre-built website and voila... push button ecommerece for the masses. Sell one for $400 bucks a piece with the ability to link them together for future growth. Who needs ebay? everybody on my block comes to me to sell their stuff.
@Kamen no serious business buys all-in-one web appliances for their web hosting. Not if that hosting is a critical part of their business infrastructure. Most just our-source to a data center, and they most definitely don't use the all-in-one set-top-appliance method. There is a very very good reason Apple never broke into the business sector and stayed almost purely consumer.
The device needs customization and easy reconfiguration, no two customers have the exact same prioriys / needs. Thus the solution must be tailored to the problem. Try to think of IT / Tech as creating solutions for present or future problems.