Dell Unveils Proof-of-Concept ARM-Based Server

Company officials say they expect the microserver will help fuel the expansion of the ecosystem around ARM-based servers.

Dell has developed an ARM-based proof-of-concept microserver that company officials hope will help expand the ecosystem around 64-bit ARM server processors.

The system is being housed at the Dell Solutions center in Texas and can be remotely accessed by organizations and programmers for testing and development, Stephen Rousset, director of Data Center Solutions (DCS) at Dell, said in a Feb. 4 post on the company blog. It also will be rolled out at another center in Singapore, Rousset said.

The proof-of-concept, which is powered by Applied Micro's 64-bit X-Gene ARM chip, is part of Dell's larger effort to collaborate "with ARM developers and vendors on future 64-bit designs in order to accelerate the maturation of the ARM ecosystem," he wrote. "As the ARM server ecosystem is still developing, our focus has been on enabling developers and customers to create code and test performance with 64-bit ARM microservers in order to foster broad-based adoption."

ARM officials have been talking for several years about moving the company's low-power chip designs—which are found in most smartphones and tablets—into the data center. They see a chance in challenging Intel in servers with the growth of hyperscale and Web 2.0 data center environments, which increasingly value energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness over raw performance.

Company officials have boasted about the ecosystem growing up around the ARM-based server concept, thanks in part to efforts such as the Linaro organization, which aims to fuel development of open-source software and tools for ARM systems-on-a-chip (SoCs).

This will be an important year for that effort, with ARM rolling out its 64-bit ARMv8-A design and a host of chip makers—including Advanced Micro Devices and Applied Micro—incorporating it into new SoCs. ARM on Jan. 29 unveiled the ARM Server Base System Architecture specification, a platform standard for servers running on 64-bit ARM-based chips. ARM officials said the standard will give system maker a framework for building systems while also fueling software development for the servers.

ARM's announcement came a day after AMD unveiled its A1100 "Seattle" SoC, the company's first ARM-based 64-bit chip. AMD later this quarter will begin sampling the four- to eight-core A1100, and officials expect systems running on the chip to begin selling later this year.

Dell and Hewlett-Packard have been the highest-profile server makers to support ARM's data center ambitions. HP is creating a line of ultra-low power servers dubbed Moonshot that will run on a range of chips, from Intel's low-power x86 Atom SoCs to x86 chips from AMD to ARM processors from a variety of vendors.

Dell in 2012 released a limited edition of its ARM-based Copper servers running on ARM-based SoCs from Marvell Technologies, and also donated its Zinc server concept to the open-source Apache Software Foundation. In October 2013, Dell demonstrated an ARM-based microserver at ARM's TechCon event.

Intel has not taken ARM's challenge lightly. The company has created an Atom-based platform for servers, and last year released the 22-nanometer C2000 "Avoton" family, which officials say—based on the new "Silvermont" microarchitecture—meets or exceeds ARM SoCs in power efficiency and performance. In addition, the company later this year will launch the next-generation Atom server SoC, the 14nm "Denverton."