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Various definitions of the word “Axion” range from something that sounds like scientific gobbledygook, such as a “hypothetical subatomic particle postulated to account for the rarity of processes that break charge-parity symmetry,” to more layman’s terms, such as “a kind of elementary particle that is believed to exist and be a part of a substance in space that does not give off any light.” 

Google is using the word as the name for its new AI processors. Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian unveiled Google Axion at Google Next 2024 in Las Vegas on April 9, 2024. Axion will be one of a small number of alternatives to Nvidia’s market dominating AI chips. 

“At Google, we constantly push the boundaries of computing, exploring what is possible for grand challenges ranging from information retrieval, global video distribution, and of course generative AI. Doing so requires rethinking systems design in deep collaboration with service developers. This rethinking has resulted in our significant investment in custom silicon. Today, we are thrilled to announce the latest incarnation of this work: Google Axion Processors, our first custom Arm-based CPUs designed for the data center. Axion delivers industry-leading performance and energy efficiency and will be available to Google Cloud customers later this year.”

In creating Axion, Google sought to develop something that is and will be capable of handling huge workloads, and the company suggested what is currently available is lagging. “While our investments in compute accelerators have transformed our customers’ capabilities, general-purpose compute is and will remain a critical portion of our customers’ workloads.” Analytics, information retrieval, and ML training and serving all require a huge amount of compute power. Customers and users who wish to maximize performance, reduce infrastructure costs, and meet sustainability goals have found that the rate of CPU improvements has slowed recently. 

Google makes reference to Amdahl’s Law in explaining the critical need to improve the capabilities of processors. The law holds that timing is everything, and that creating something that is faster can be inhibited by back-ups in the portion of the system or program that takes the longest to complete. Clearing the drain should be the focus, rather than wasting time on optimizing components that won’t make much difference in the long run.

That is Google’s approach with its new toy, and the company says that Axion delivers. “Axion Processors combine Google’s silicon expertise with Arm’s highest performing CPU cores to deliver instances with up to 30% better performance than the fastest general-purpose Arm-based instances available in the cloud today, up to 50% better performance and up to 60% better energy-efficiency than comparable current-generation x86-based instances.”

The company claims that the new processors will deliver “giant leaps in performance for general-purpose workloads like web and app servers, containerized microservices, open-source databases, in-memory caches, data analytic, engines, media procession, CPU-based AI training and inferencing, and more.”

This should help enterprise leaders innovate and accomplish digital transformation initiates more easily and efficiently.

Daniel Bernard, the Chief Business Officer of CrowdStrike, said he is optimistic about the possibility of Axion. “Organizations all over the world rely on CrowdStrike and our single platform, single agent architecture, to stop cloud breaches. CrowdStrike delivers the industry’s best protection while being the fastest to deploy, so we’re excited about testing Google’s new processors to discover power and efficiency gains.”

And Korwin Smith, Senior Director of Engineering, Cloud Infrastructure, for Snap, said “Snap empowers everyone to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together. We’re constantly optimizing our infrastructure for performance and efficiency. Google’s new Axion Arm-based CPU promises major leaps forward in both. The potential to serve our community with these gains while leading on our sustainability goals is incredibly exciting. We look forward to seeing the benefits of Axion-based virtual machines when they become available.”