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HP hooks up with Calxeda to form server ARMy

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HP is partnering ARM-licensee Calxeda to build energy-efficient micro-servers for large data centres, the WSJ reports.

Calxeda is producing 4-core, 32-bit, ARM-based system-on-chip (SOC) designs, developed from ARM's Cortex A9. It says it can deliver a server node with a thermal envelope of less than 5 watts. In the summer it was designing an interconnect to link thousands of these things together. A 2U rack enclosure could hold 120 server nodes: that's 480 cores.

The company is supporting an ecosystem of hardware and software partners with a focus on Linux.

From the WSJ report, it appears that HP has joined that ecosystem. It will have made the comparison between the Calxeda server nodes' power consumption and that of Intel's 20 watt and 15 watt Sandy Bridge Xeon processors, and a planned Xeon drawing less than 10 watts due next year. Calxeda's thermal envelope is far superior for data centre operators needing to optimise for power efficiency and willing to forego any advantages of Xeon's 64-bit memory.

Intel's Atom products also use more power than ARM chips and Intel intends to develop them to draw less than 10 watts as well. These are due next year. It looks as if HP and Calxeda servers will have a thermal envelope advantage – at least until 2013, when Intel may have Atom designs closer to Calxeda's server node power characteristics, not that Intel is saying anything about that.

HP has 30 per cent or so server market share and is closely aligned with Intel, using its Itanium design for high-end servers. Intel believes that performance is more important to the broad mass of its customers than power efficiency but, even so, is developing more power-efficient chips. However the X86 architecture is a power hog.

Calxeda is said to be talking to other server manufacturers and storage vendors and we might expect more ARM-powered server and storage controller news to be revealed in the coming months. ®

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