As the first enterprise-ready, ARM-based servers get nearer to release more details are emerging on what these energy-sipping systems will be capable of.
The upcoming 64-bit machines are being designed to tackle a far broader range of tasks than the few 32-bit ARM-based servers tested out by a handful of companies this year.
Rather than just web serving, these systems are being built to also power data analytics on Hadoop clusters, fetch and put data in NoSQL data stores, streaming media and high-performance computing, sharing processing duties with GPUs, FPGAs or ASICs.
Jobs like these can be split into computationally light workloads and processed in parallel by clusters of thousands of wimpy core processors. These dense clusters of low-power servers can handle these parallelisable tasks more efficiently than smaller number of powerful chips, delivering better performance per watt and per square foot of datacentre space, important measures for driving down the cost of running a large server estate.
Hence the interest in taking small, energy thrifty ARM-based chipsets, today more commonly found in mobile phones and tablets, and using them in tightly, packed server clusters.
A fair proportion of the software needed to handle these web serving, data analytics, streaming media and other jobs are on track to be ready for production use on ARM-based servers. But what about the hardware?
Powering these servers will be chipsets from a range of companies – but major players in the nascent ARM-based server space will be likely be Applied Micro with its X-Gene boards and AMD, which is branching out beyond x86 with its Opteron A1100 processor.
These forthcoming chips are based on the ARM v8 architecture, which introduces support for features considered critical by business. Not only is v8 the first ARM architecture to support 64-bit cores, it also brings additional enterprise-class features, such as error-correcting code (ECC) memory.
The companies behind these server chipsets were at the Hot Chips conference in Cupertino this week to detail the capabilities of their chips and the servers they will power.