ARM Server Market Poised to Take Off

ARM chief executive Warren East said that the industry was nearing the end of its six-year journey to develop ARM-based servers, including the announcement of yet another ARM-based server this week.

On Monday, Boston Limited began shipping its Viridis server, based on the Calxeda EnergyCore, a system-on-a-chip designed around ARM’s Cortex-A9 architecture. Separately, ARM also signed a deal with TSMC, the world’s largest fabless semiconductor company, to bring ARM’s 64-bit ARMv8 chips to the TSMC FinFET state-of-the-art process technology.

For its part, ARM reported a second-quarter profit of $102.3 million on revenue of $213 million, representing year-over-year growth of 23 percent and 12 percent, respectively. ARM, a fabless semiconductor supplier that licenses its designs to such manufacturers as FreeScale, said it now totals nearly 900 licensees, including six for the Cortex-A architecture.

In servers, East told analysts that it had not been a “great, stunning news year,” but that the company was nevertheless proud of its progress. “We’re getting toward the end of this six-year journey from 2008 for when you can go out and buy commercially sensible ARM based servers,” he said.

To date, the server market has been dominated by X86 chips, mainly from Intel. But the argument behind ARM-based servers is a power-driven one: ARM claims that in certain scenarios, servers based on its chips offer a 15x power-performance improvement over the “incumbent” X86 architecture. East noted that the Calxeda EnergyCore was primarily an architecture designed for mobile phones, surrounded by some SOC logic, rather than a dedicated enterprise part. Ellis also acknowledged that the enterprise software ecosystem needs to be “flavored” with ARM support.

ARM’s chips have also been used within networking equipment, with HiSilicon, LSI, Xilinx and others all choosing the artchitecture, East said.

Earlier this year, Dell launched an ARM-based server with 48 quad-core ARM chips from Marvell.

The Boston Viridis unit, by contrast, contains up to 12 quad-node EnergyCards with built-in Layer-2 networking, plus storage in the form of up to 24 local SATA disks or MicroSD cards. With up to 48 nodes per enclosure, the highly dense solution contains up to 900 servers per an industry-standard 42U rack. From a software perspective, the SOC itself is supported by both Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS and Fedora v17+ distributions, plus cloud management software from Openstack, big data technologies such as Hadoop, Cassandra, as well as applications built in Java, Ruby on Rails, Python and the LAMP stack.

The TSMC partnership, meanwhile, will push ARM into even finer process technologies. Within the chip world, Intel has relied as much on its process technology leadership as its design technology, making up for any design shortfalls with process technology that allows its microprocessors to run cooler and/or faster. Companies like ARM, and AMD’s early designs, focused more on design superiority to eke out performance gains.

The collaboration will enable sharing of technical information and feedback between the two companies, enhancing the development of ARM IP and TSMC’s process technology, the two companies said. ARM will leverage process information to optimize the power, performance and area (PPA) of the overall solution to reduce risk and encourage early adoption.

 

Image: asharkyu/Shutterstock.com

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