Microsoft Reportedly Eyeing ARM-Based Windows Server OS

Cracks in the Wintel alliance? Microsoft is reportedly testing a version of Windows Server that runs on ARM-based processors.

Microsoft Windows on ARM

Microsoft is internally evaluating Windows Server on ARM processors, a move that could shake up the server market.

The tech titan is testing a version of Windows Server that runs on CPUs based on chip designs from ARM, a Cambridge, England-based mobile microprocessor and system-on-chip (SoC) specialist, according to an Oct. 27 report in Bloomberg. Microsoft is considering whether to commercialize the software. Currently, the company's Windows Server operating system requires an x86 processor from AMD or long-time ally Intel.

"Microsoft has nothing to share," a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK, neither confirming nor denying the report.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company has already racked up experience developing for ARM-based processors. Both Windows Phone and Windows RT, a tablet-optimized version of Windows 8.x, run on mobile processors based on ARM's technology.

Windows RT failed to catch on with consumers and Windows Phone continues to struggle behind Android smartphones and Apple's iPhone. On the server front, however, an ARM-compatible version of Windows Server could improve the technology's chances in the data center.

Whereas Intel dominates the PC and server chip market, ARM leads in the exploding market for mobile processors. Smartphone and tablet makers have flocked to ARM's designs, which are licensed to Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung and several others chip manufacturers, due to their low power consumption and relatively powerful computational capabilities.

Some server companies are banking on those attributes for a new breed of energy-efficient servers.

Hewlett-Packard announced on Sept. 29 that the company had begun shipping two new Moonshot servers. Moonshot is the HP's code name for a family of ARM-based hardware that consumes 65 percent less power, requires 98 percent less cabling and occupies 90 percent less space than traditional x86-based servers, according to company estimates.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK at the time that the move "really signals the beginning. Up to this point, it's been samples, previews and design wins. It's the real deal now."

Dell, too, is exploring the viability of ARM-based servers via its "Copper" and "Zinc" projects. But the Round Rock, Texas-based PC and server company is taking a wait-and-see approach before it ramps up production.

Forrest Norrod, vice president and general manager of Dell Server Solutions, told eWEEK's Jeffrey Burt in August, "The book's not written yet. It's not clear. If end-user demand is there, we can certainly fill it."

Intel isn't sitting on the sidelines. The company is targeting microservers with its new third-generation Atom chip and is increasing investments in its custom chip unit. Intel also announced plans to integrate versatile field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) into its Xeon products.

If and when Microsoft's ARM-friendly server OS hits the market, it will have arrived too late for one ARM server pioneer. Calxeda, an early proponent of ARM-based IT systems, shut down late last year because its funding dried up.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...