Dell to Demo 64-Bit ARM-Based 'Copper' Server

The system maker will show off the server during ARM's TechCon event, where much of the attention will be ARM technology in the data center.

Dell officials this week will be demonstrating an ARM-based low-power microserver running the Fedora Linux distribution.

The company's Data Center Solutions (DCS) group will show off the system during ARM's TechCon 2013 event in Santa Clara, Calif., which kicks off Oct. 29. The Dell demonstration will add to what is expected to be a focus on 64-bit ARM computing in the data center, including dense, low-power microservers.

For example, Calxeda officials announced Oct. 28 that they will unveil the next generation of the company's 32-bit EnergyCore systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) as well as details of a new line of 64-bit chips expected next year. ARM executives for the past several years have eyed the microserver space as a growth opportunity for its low-power SoC designs, which now are primarily found in mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.

Much of the attention in recent months has been on Hewlett-Packard's Project Moonshot portfolio of small, highly energy-efficient servers aimed at hyperscale environments running workloads such as Web hosting and cloud services. HP officials in April unveiled the first of the Moonshot servers, which run on Intel's 64-bit Atom platform, with the promise of adding systems powered by ARM-based chips from the likes of Advanced Micro Devices, Calxeda and Marvell Technologies.

However, Dell also has been working ARM-based microservers in its "Copper" efforts, and like other OEMs and chip makers, see advantages of the ARM architecture not only in compute but also storage and networking.

"Dell began developing microserver technology back in 2007 and has worked closely with select Dell DCS hyperscale customers to understand their workloads, expectations and requirements," Robert Hormuth, executive director of platform technology and architecture for the office of the CTO at Dell, wrote in a post on the company's blog. "We believe the 64-bit ARM-based processor demonstrates promise for storage and Web front-end environments, where advantages in dollars per gigabyte, watts per gigabyte, performance per dollar and performance per watt are critical."

The Dell system will be powered by Applied Micro's 64-bit ARM-based X-Gene SoC and will run Fedora, with PMC's 16-port, 12G-bps SAS storage solution running Dell storage arrays.

"This is a key milestone for customers seeking to run real-world workloads on 64-bit ARM technology," Hormuth wrote.

The microserver space is expected to be one of several key areas of competition between ARM and Intel. ARM officials see the growing demand for faster, more energy-efficient systems in the data center as a natural fit for their low-power technology. ARM's architecture now is 32-bit, but the company is expected to begin licensing its upcoming 64-bit ARMv8-A technology next year. Applied Micro already has developed a 40-nanometer version of its X-Gene 64-bit ARM SoC, and will begin sampling its 28nm version in the first half of 2014.

Dell and other OEMs believe 64-bit capabilities will be critical to the success of ARM in the data center, but Hormuth said Dell has been using the 32-bit SoCs to its advantage.

"As the ARM server ecosystem is in its early stages, Dell's focus has been on addressing today's market realities—that is, enabling developers and customers to create code and test performance with 32-bit ARM servers," he wrote. "However, as we have been discussing with customers and analysts, 64-bit will be required for broad-based adoption and we are currently developing architectures based upon 64-bit solutions."

Dell plans to deliver a proof-of-concept server based on Applied Micro's 64-bit ARM technology in early 2014. The OEM began seeing Copper servers with Web and hyperscale customers in May 2012.

In addition, in hopes of growing the ecosystem around 64-bit ARM, Dell in October 2012 donated its "Zinc" ARM-based server concept to the Apache Software Foundation. The Zinc system runs on Calxeda's EnergyCore chips.

Dell also is making the Copper and Zinc systems available remotely through its Austin Solution Center hosting site and the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas, where they can be accessed by academic developers.

"Our current priority is supporting application development and testing of the ARM-based server ecosystem, and we will bring a 64-bit ARM-based server to general availability when customer and ecosystem readiness are aligned," Hormuth said.