ARM-Based Server From MiTac of Taiwan Shown at Computex

The demonstration at the show follows efforts by HP and Dell to create an ecosystem to support ARM-based servers in the data center.

ARM Holdings executives reportedly are demonstrating a server running on ARM technology, this one built by Taiwanese systems maker MiTac International.

The demonstration with MiTac at the Computex 2012 show in Taipei, Taiwan, June 5 represents the latest step by ARM in its efforts to make inroads into the a server market dominated by Intel. It follows the announcement by Hewlett-Packard last year to work with Calxeda to develop low-power ARM-based servers and Dell€™s move May 29 to distribute ARM-based systems to a limited number of customers in hopes of driving ecosystem development.

According to reports, the rack system, dubbed the GFX Server, is powered by quad-core 1.6GHz processors. The servers fit into a 4U (7-inch) chassis, which can hold up to 64 of the ARM processors. ARM officials demonstrated it running a Ubuntu Linux operating system.

ARM executives admit that it will take several years before its low-power chip designs€”which are prominent in such mobile devices as smartphones and tablets€”can start getting traction in the low-power server space. However, several chip manufacturers, such as Calxeda, Marvell Technologies and Nvidia, already are working on ARM processors for servers, and top-tier OEMs HP and Dell are interested in growing the market.

The growth of hyperscale computing environments, in such areas as Web serving, cloud computing and high-performance computing (HPC), is driving demand for high-performing, low-power servers that can process high levels of small workloads. A new category of power-efficient systems, called microservers, is expected to grow over the next few years. Both Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices are driving down the power consumption of their server chips to meet the demand.

It€™s where ARM executives have said they expect to make inroads. However, they don€™t expect that to begin in earnest until 2014 or so, when systems running the ARM v8 architecture begin hitting the market. The ARM v8 architecture will bring with it features needed for server environments, including 64-bit capabilities, greater memory capacity and greater support for virtualization.

Software support also is important; few data center applications have been written that support ARM€™s architecture, though some open-source platforms€”including the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) stack, Java, Hadoop and Openstack have been optimized for ARM.

That€™s not stopping chip makers and OEMs from pushing the ARM technology along. HP in November 2011 announced a partnership with Calxeda to build very low-power servers using the chip maker€™s EnergyCore products as part of its larger Project Moonshot. For its part, Dell€™s Copper servers will be powered by Marvell€™s Armada XP chips, and the OEM is hoping to use the systems to drive hardware and software ecosystem development around ARM-based servers.

€œThe ARM server ecosystem is still immature, with a limited software ecosystem and (until now) no ARM-based servers from a tier-one OEM,€ Steve Cummings, executive director of Dell€™s Data Center Solutions unit, said in a May 29 post on Dell€™s Direct2Dell blog. €œ[C]ustomers have told us they don€™t plan to put ARM servers into a production environment, but instead want servers to test and validate in their labs.€

In May at the Ubuntu Developer and Cloud Summit, Calxeda officials demonstrated an ARM-based server running the Ubuntu 12.04 OS and a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) software stack. Calxeda officials promised more demonstrations, with end-user shipments starting in this summer and volume shipments from HP and other vendors this fall.