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5/30/2014
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Energy-Sipping ARM Chips Made For Cloud

Applied Micro and Canonical demonstrate the first OpenStack cloud on a rack of ARM servers at a show in Taiwan.

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Apple WWDC 2014: 9 Things To Expect
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Applied Micro Circuits and Canonical planned to demonstrate an OpenStack cloud running on a rack of ARM servers at the Computex tradeshow Friday in Taiwan. Major server manufacturers, including Dell and HP, and original design manufacturers from around the world, such as Quanta, Avnet, and Hyve, were expected to view the demonstration.

ARM is the chip used in many smartphones and mobile devices, and it's not usually associated with either enterprise data centers or cloud computing. But Applied Micro will show a rack of 14 servers based on its X-Gene server chip. They will be running Icehouse, the latest version of OpenStack, under Canonical's Ubuntu Linux.

The demonstration will also show Apache web servers, SugarCRM open-source CRM, Hadoop, the Elasticsearch search engine, and the Mediawiki open-source code used to produce Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and Wikimedia Commons.

These high-profile applications are meant to show how typical, Intel x86-instruction-set software can be recompiled to run on the ARM architecture. The open-source GCC compiler for ARM "has matured considerably over the last year," said Gaurav Singh, VP of Applied Micro, in an interview Friday morning before the demonstration, to be held a day before the Computex show for computer manufacturers kicks off.

[Want to learn more about ARM's emergence as a server architecture? See Open Source Cloud Hardware Grows Up Fast.]

Singh said it's the first time 64-bit ARM chips have been assembled in a server rack with cloud software and mainstream applications available to run on them. "This is very exciting to us. It's not a trivial amount of work," he said of the software ports. Both Red Hat and Canonical have recompiled their Linux systems for use with ARM. The Linaro engineering project, founded in 2010, is also methodically porting open-source code over to ARM.

HP said in its Project Moonshot announcement in 2011 that it believes ARM servers will one day play a role in both the enterprise data center and cloud. At the Open Compute Summit in January, Andrew Feldman, corporate VP of AMD, predicted that ARM servers will make up 25% of the enterprise data center by 2019.

The architecture sips energy, compared to Intel's thirsty Xeons, and thus finds its way into mobile devices with limited battery life. Until recently, it was not considered viable silicon for servers because there were no 64-bit ARM chips. Also all previous ARM implementations required in-order instruction processing. IBM's Power, Sun's Sparc, and Intel's x86 are all used in servers because they are out-of-order instruction-processing CPUs: The chip can preview incoming instructions and decide in which order it wishes to process them for optimum performance. The technique is considered a requirement for any server architecture.

Singh said Applied Micro's 64-bit X-Gene chip is an out-of-order instruction processor. Applied Micro began sampling its 64-bit X-Gene chips to server makers last summer.

Asked to compare the processing power of an ARM CPU with an Intel CPU, Singh said the current 8-core X-Gene was roughly equivalent to older-generation, Intel E3 Xeon chips, such as the Nehalem processor, which became widely available in 2009. When compared to a current 8-core Xeon E5, such as Sandy Bridge, the X-Gene falls back to doing 75% to 80% of the E5's work, said Singh. His performance measure is the amount of application logic and related I/O that gets accomplished.

At the same time, X-Gene's purchase price is less than Xeon's, and it uses half the energy. X-Gene servers can be assembled with a density four times as great as Intel servers, giving them a smaller footprint in the data center, Singh claimed. That's the case in part because so many server

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek, having joined the publication in 2003. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse ... View Full Bio

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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
6/2/2014 | 1:54:02 AM
Re: Will the enterprise data center adopt ARM?
interesting to know, same question... it would be interesting to know are ARM still in play...
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
5/30/2014 | 7:33:25 PM
Re: Will the enterprise data center adopt ARM?
Thanks, Charlie. This is not really my area, but I rmemeber Intel talking about a generation of power efficient processors to compete with ARM. Are they still coming? Did I miss them?
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 1:12:49 PM
Will the enterprise data center adopt ARM?
Are the compilers good enough for a successful, large scale conversion of x86 software to ARM? The Linux conversions have been supervised and probably tweaked by experts at Red Hat and Canonical. Until enterprise IT is confident in the success of conversion, ARM won't find much of a market in the standard data center. On the other hand, Facebook and others see the potential savings if the applications can be recompiled for ARM.
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