As Karl Freund from Calxeda noted in his blog last week, ARM servers are moving out of the PowerPoint phase and into the proof-point phase. Running on top of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, Calxeda is showing multiple workloads including their company website on Apache web server. Many congratulations to all involved. As these boxes roll out to alpha and beta sites, end users will be able to run and compare real server workloads on this hardware with the same software on incumbent server platforms. I would also advise you to read this piece from Richard Fichera, an analyst at Forrester Research, who has been following and writing for about the disruption going on in the data center space for several years. Many people have written about this “battle” being about ARM’s processor cores versus its x86 competitors. And this is certainly an element. ARM has spent 22 years developing processors that are miserly when it comes to consuming energy. But this is just as much (and I would argue more so) about ARM’s business model and how it enables silicon manufacturers and others further down the value chain to deliver differentiated value in the resulting end platforms.
So, back to Oakland…
The demo consisted of a single 2U chassis populated with two EnergyCards (four ARM Powered SoCs per card). Demonstrations included:
- LAMP stack – hosting an (off-line) copy of the Calxeda website
- Canonical’s MAAS (Metal As A Service) provisioning tool, announced last month, that enables system administrators to manage hyperscale deployments of physical servers
- Several instances of application servers managed by OpenStack. This included Wordpress, an open source blogging tool, a Node.js based chat application and Ruby on Rails.
From my perspective, the important aspect isn’t the actual programs that were shown. The key point is that this open source just ran out of the box. Much is made of the challenges ARM faces in the server domain, given the amount of legacy code that exists for incumbent platforms. For some applications this is absolutely correct. However, for the server applications where our silicon partners such as like Calxeda are focused, the ease with which these software applications can be brought up on an ARM platform is a validation that this barrier does not exist.
While I am on the topic of handing out congratulations, some kudos must be sent in the direction of Applied Micro. Applied Micro announced in October 2011 that they were developing X-Gene, a system-on-a-chip (SoC) device compatible with the ARMv8 instruction set architecture (ISA). Applied Micro announced at the end of last month that they had an FPGA implementation of their device running an open source web server on the 64-bit version of the ARMv8 ISA called AArch64. I mentioned previously that building an ecosystem takes time. Applied Micro is pioneering this ground with us, and the availability of hardware is critical to putting the necessary tools, operating systems, virtualization modules and application software in place.
Earlier this month I attended Facebook’s Open Compute Project (OCP) event in San Antonio, hosted by Rackspace. This effort, which I believe began in early 2011, is focused on specifying optimized server platforms for use in web infrastructure applications. Everything demonstrated last week was based on incumbent server processor, but the standard is processor agnostic. I look forward to seeing ARM Powered hardware compatible with the OpenRack Specification being announced at a future event. There were two takeaways for me from the event:
- How traditional server manufacturers will position themselves and drive value given the openness of this specification. Both Wistron and Quanta have established business units (Wiwynn and Quanta Cloud Technologies respectively) with the goal of supplying technology directly to end customers
- The interest that this specification is starting to gain beyond the web 2.0 types of companies. As one example, Fidelity Investments was announced as joining this initiative
If you have read this far, many thanks for staying with it! Exciting times lie ahead. Real ARM Powered servers are on the horizon for deployment in data centers. Many of these server applications are predicted to experience phenomenal growth over the coming years. This piece from IDC shows the predicted growth of Hadoop. The availability of this hardware will enable true performance/joule/$ comparisons to be made, with the eventual winner being end users who are able to select from a broader number of platforms and choose the one that best fits his/her application.
For more information, see my other blogs on this topic:
- ARM in Servers: A Different Path (06 March 2012)
- ARM in Servers: How Small Could This Be? (19 Dec 2011)
- ARM in Servers: How Big Could This Be? (17 Nov 2011)
- What a Difference 7 Days Makes! ARMv8 and HP’s Moonshot Program (01 Nov 2011)
- Server Ecosystem: A Fine Kettle of Fish (20 Oct 2011)
Ian Ferguson, Director of Server Systems and Ecosystem, ARM, has spent years fighting from the corner of the underdog. Most of those scars are healing nicely. Ian is particularly passionate about taking ARM technology into new types of applications that do not exist or are at the very formative stages. Consequently, he is driving ARM’s server program with a view to reinvent the way the server function is implemented in networks as opposed to simply replacing incumbent platforms.
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