ARM Server Supporters Aim to Speed Up Software Development

Linaro's Development Cloud gives programmers access to ARM-based systems, while Red Hat says its Linux OS for ARM servers runs on Qualcomm chips.

Linaro Development Cloud

Proponents for use of ARM-based chips in data center servers are hoping moves made this week will accelerate the adoption of such systems.

At an event it sponsored this week, Linaro rolled out a cloud that programmers can use to more easily design, develop and test applications built for platforms based on the 64-bit ARMv-8 architecture and aimed at everything from servers to the cloud and the Internet of things (IoT).

Also at the Linaro Connect 2016 event in Bangkok, Thailand, Qualcomm and Red Hat announced that Red Hat will port its Enterprise Linux Server for ARM Development Preview software onto Qualcomm's ARM-based server chips.

The announcements are the latest steps in a broad effort by ARM, many of its chip manufacturing partners and an array of software makers to push for mainstream deployment of ARM-based servers and other enterprise infrastructure systems in the data center. ARM designs low-power systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) and then licenses those designs to companies like Qualcomm and Samsung, which builds chips based on the architecture.

ARM-based SoCs can be found in the bulk of smartphones and tablets on the market, and the company is pushing for greater traction in such areas as embedded systems and IoT devices. Company officials for several years have talked about the opportunity for ARM-based processors to be alternatives to Intel's dominant server portfolio, saying their low-power designs are a good fit in such environments as hyperscale and cloud centers, where energy efficiency is crucial.

A growing number of chip makers—such as Advanced Micro Devices, Applied Micro and Cavium—have launched AMD-based data center SoCs, and Qualcomm last fall unveiled a 24-core ARM-based SoC that it is sampling with tier-one cloud providers. However, the adoption of servers running ARM chips has yet to really take off. A key part of this scenario is the need for a robust software ecosystem of applications and operating systems that can run on these machines.

Linaro was formed to help drive open-source development of software for ARM-based systems, including developer tools, power management and the Linux kernel. The Linaro Developer Cloud will help to speed up the development of such software, according to Linaro CEO George Grey.

"As the adoption of ARM based servers accelerates and IoT applications rapidly evolve, software developers need access to hardware and easy to use software reference platforms," Grey said in a statement, adding that the developer cloud will "broaden the availability of the latest hardware to developers globally, and to enable commercial and private cloud providers to utilize the implementation to accelerate deployment of their own offerings."

The Developer Cloud combines server hardware platforms from chip makers like AMD, Qualcomm and Cavium with cloud technologies and software projects among Linaro members, such as server class boot architecture, kernel and virtualization.

The OpenStack-based Developer Cloud uses both Debian and CentOS, and will use server chips from AMD, Cavium, Huawei Technologies and Qualcomm. More will be added as more server platforms are developed. There will be single- and dual-socket systems as well as 10/40 Gigabit Ethernet networking, scalable storage and integrated accelerators, Linaro officials said. It will be accessible through the portal.

In its partnership with Red Hat, Qualcomm also is pushing the development of software for ARM-based systems, bringing "a familiar environment and tooling to existing customers to help users enjoy a consistent experience across architectures with simplified porting and development efforts," Rammohan Peddibhotla, senior director of product management at Qualcomm, wrote in a post on the company blog.

According to Peddibhotla, Qualcomm and Red Hat successfully booted the software maker's Linux OS for ARM servers on Qualcomm's Server Development Platform (SDP). In addition, the Enterprise Linux Server operating system will be available through Red Hat's ARM Partner Early Access Program (PEAP) and will meet the specifications laid out in ARM's Server Base System Architecture. The SBSA ensures that a single OS image can run on multiple ARM platforms, a move designed to accelerate the software development and support compatibility across multiple ARM-based platforms.

A Qualcomm-powered server running the Red Hat OS reportedly was demonstrated at the Linaro Connect conference.