Feeds

Dell skunkworks brews ARM server future

Cortex A9. LAMP stack. Eye of newt

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Chip Marvell

Chip maker Marvell, which bought Intel's XScale ARM RISC business five years ago, is hoping to get its dual-core variant of the Cortex-A9 chip into the field by the end of the year. As El Reg has previously reported, a startup called Smooth-Stone has raised $48m in funding to design ARM-based servers.

In the summer, there were rumors Facebook was putting ARM-based servers into its data center in Oregon, and of course it would be interesting to see Apple deploy ARM-based servers in its massive North Carolina data center.

Prince and his colleagues at Dell are going to be putting Cortex-A9 skunkworks servers together as soon as chips and motherboards are ready, and will load them up with a LAMP stack to get the feeds and speeds of what these systems can do.

So when the next hyperscale data center looking for bespoke servers to radically cut back on power consumption comes knocking on Dell's door, the company will have another option beside Intel Atom and low-voltage Xeon, Opteron and low-voltage Athlon, and VIA Technologies Nano chips.

Dell is not expecting a lot of business for such machines, but it has to be ready to capture whatever there will be. That is the secret of the success of the Data Center Solutions unit of Dell, which has quietly become a dominant force in Dell's overall server shipments.

"ARM is moving the core forward with the Cortex-A15, and the ecosystem is, too," says Prince, adding that it the ecosystem is what will add the memory capacity, I/O features, and other functions to an ARM chip design that make it suitable for a server. "This feels like it is moving at the right pace."

Virtualization of memory

Some would argue that the ARM chips are not evolving fast enough to take on Intel and AMD in the server racket. As El Reg explained in August, the Cortex-A15 design includes a feature called large physical address extension, which will translate 32-bit virtual memory addresses to 40-bit or larger physical addresses.

This gives hypervisors and operating systems running on the Eagle machines some sleight of hand to address more physical memory than the 32-bit limit allows (at 4 GB). (Similar virtualization of memory was used in 16-bit and then 32-bit PC server chips as Intel moved from the desktop to the servers, so there is some precedence for this.)

ARM's own specs for the Cortex-A15 calls for "home and Web 2.0 servers" in quad-core configurations with the Eagle chips running at between 1.5 GHz and 2.5 GHz and with virtual machines atop the cores and support for more than 4 GB of main memory in the box.

Don't get the wrong idea. We are not going to see Dell launch a PowerEdge-A series lineup until ARM chips go mainstream in servers.

"I don't see ARM taking over the enterprise server market," says Prince. "But ARM could be a very important niche."

Ubuntu Linux and Android Linux already run on ARM chips, and so does Microsoft's Windows Embedded CE. There is no reason why the real server versions of any of these platforms - and others - can't be tweaked to run on ARM-based servers.

Lots of hyperscale customers control their own code-bases, and porting to a new architecture is no big deal for their techies. If the cost per unit of performance per watt numbers work out, it is cheaper to pay a few programmers to retune the apps for a new architecture than it is to build a new data center or three.

Dell did not provide access to its benchmark results on the LAMP stack running on the skunkworks Cortex-A8 machines, but you can see a performance test done by ARM Holdings that pits a netbook using a 1.6 GHz Atom processor against a prototype machine using a dual-core Cortex-A9 processors here.

See if you can tell if there is much of a difference between the two. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Docker's app containers are coming to Windows Server, says Microsoft
MS chases app deployment speeds already enjoyed by Linux devs
IBM storage revenues sink: 'We are disappointed,' says CEO
Time to put the storage biz up for sale?
'Hmm, why CAN'T I run a water pipe through that rack of media servers?'
Leaving Las Vegas for Armenia kludging and Dubai dune bashing
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
Windows 10: Forget Cloudobile, put Security and Privacy First
But - dammit - It would be insane to say 'don't collect, because NSA'
Symantec backs out of Backup Exec: Plans to can appliance in Jan
Will still provide support to existing customers
VMware's tool to harden virtual networks: a spreadsheet
NSX security guide lands in intriguing format
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.