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Red Hat rallies hardware makers with 64-bit ARM server partner program

Standards sought for low-power data center kit

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Red Hat has upped its commitment to support servers based on the ARM processor architecture, with the formation of a new partner program specifically for vendors of 64-bit ARM hardware for the data center.

The Red Hat ARM Partner Early Access Program is aimed at both chipmakers and server builders, and its early members include AMD, American Megatrends, AppliedMicro, Broadcom, Cavium, Dell, HP, Linaro, and ARM Holdings itself.

"By providing our participating partners with the tools, resources and support needed to build a common development platform, we can help facilitate partner-driven 64-bit ARM solutions that are based upon Red Hat technologies," Jim Totton, VP of Red Hat's platform business unit, said in a shrinkwrapped statement.

Among the program's goals will be to give participants early access to Red Hat software for 64-bit ARM, as well as to collaborate on standardized server software and application development platforms that can support multiple hardware designs.

The industry has been abuzz with talk of replacing traditional server iron with power-sipping, ARM-based kit for the last few years, but only now that the 64-bit ARMv8-A architecture has matured has the tech really seemed ready to break into the mainstream.

In fact, Karl Freund, former chief marketer for early ARM server chipmaker Calxeda, has said that one reason for Calxeda's collapse in December was that large software vendors seemed unwilling to get behind its 32-bit designs – and he called out Red Hat, in particular.

Shadowman seems genuinely bullish about ARMv8-A hardware, however, no doubt because it will be easier to port its existing software portfolio for the Intel platform to a 64-bit target.

For hardware makers, the chief selling point of ARM is thought not to be its performance per watt – which, though admirable, is likely to be matched by Intel soon – but its flexibility. Chipmakers are free to license ARM processor cores and bolt on any other components they want, resulting in a wide range of components for server OEMs to choose from.

But the chief stumbling block for ARM in the data center has been that because chipmakers have such freedom in designing their silicon, different vendors' ARM system-on-chips (SOCs) have been incompatible in subtle ways, forcing software makers to rejigger their code for each product. The result has been a fragmented ecosystem that's hard for open source projects like Linux to properly support.

Recently, ARM has proposed a standard for 64-bit ARM server SoC interoperability that could clear up some of this fragmentation. As Red Hat was one of the companies that helped develop this spec – along with AMD, Broadcom, and Linaro, among others – it will likely inform the early standardization work of the Red Hat ARM Partner Early Access Program.

Beyond this low-level work, however, Red Hat says it intends its partner program to also produce developer tools and documentation based on common standards that will be able to support both today's and tomorrow's ARM server hardware. ®

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