Cavium, Canonical Demo OpenStack Running on ARM-Based Servers

At the OpenStack Summit, the companies show a cluster of servers powered by Cavium's ThunderX SoCs running OpenStack, Ubuntu and various workloads.

data center

Cavium and Ubuntu Linux distributor Canonical are at the OpenStack Summit demonstrating the open-source cloud orchestration software running on a cluster of servers powered by Cavium's ARM-based processors.

The two companies this week are partnering to create an optimized solution for Cavium's 64-bit ThunderX systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) that includes not only the most recent release of OpenStack but also Canonical's Ubuntu operating system. The combination of the technologies is designed to enable businesses to build, provision, deploy and manage enterprise-level cloud environments.

Cavium officials said the demonstration at the show in Vancouver, British Columbia, is the latest proof point for the company, which is one of the earliest vendors to launch ARM-based chips for servers, a domain dominated by Intel and its x86-based architecture. Officials with ARM—which designs SoC core architectures that chip-making partners like Samsung and Qualcomm then license to make their own processors—several years ago saw an opportunity in the growing cloud and Web-scale environments to push their low-power designs up the stack and into the data center.

ARM-based chips currently are found in most smartphones and tablets and are making their way into new areas such as the Internet of things (IoT).

Cavium and Applied Micro—with its X-Gene SoCs—were among the first vendors to launch ARM-based server chips based on ARM's ARMv8 architecture. Cavium launched ThunderX in December 2014, and has been adding capabilities—such as Tesla GPU accelerator technology from Nvidia—over the past several months. The ThunderX chip family offers up to 48 cores, single- and dual-socket configurations, and integrated accelerators, high-memory bandwidth, large memory capacity and integrated bandwidth network and storage I/O. ThunderX also includes a low-latency Ethernet fabric.

"ThunderX was architected specifically to address the performance and deployment requirements of the world's largest cloud environments," Larry Wikelius, director of Thunder ecosystems and partner enablement at Cavium, said in a statement. "The collaboration with Canonical continues to highlight Cavium's aggressive focus on building the industry's most complete technical and commercial ecosystem for ARMv8 based servers."

The long-term success of ARM in the data center is still unclear. Hewlett-Packard and Dell offer ARM-based servers, and Lenovo—fresh off its $2.1 billion acquisition of IBM's x86 server business—in February announced it was developing ARM-based prototypes using Cavium's silicon. Supercomputer maker Cray last year announced it was looking into using ARM server processors. In addition, some companies are embracing the technology. PayPal officials last month said PayPal is running some servers in its data centers powered by Applied Micro's X-Gene SoCs.

Also, executives with Advanced Micro Devices earlier this month reiterated their intention to launch the company's ARM-based "Seattle" Opteron SoC, and in 2017 will release its K12 server SoC.

Following AMD's announcement, Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK that the industry wants options in the data center.

"We know one of them is x86," Moorhead said. "Then it becomes, will it be ARM or will it be [IBM's] Power?"

Cavium officials have said that ARM is a good x86 alternative. In announcing the partnership with Canonical, they pointed to several key functions in their chips, such as virtSOC for full system virtualization, support for KVM and Xen hypervisors, integrated security and I/O, and support for such industry standards as UEFI and ACPI.

Among the workloads that will run on the ThunderX server cluster are cloud storage with CEPH, Apache Hadoop for big data analytics, distributed databases like MySQL and Cassandra, and cloud applications like Redis, Varnish and NGINX.