Red Hat Deploys ARM-Based Servers for Fedora Project

The compute cluster is based on ARM-based Viridis systems from Boston Ltd. that are powered by Calxeda’s EnergyCore SoCs.

The efforts by ARM Holdings and its partners to get their low-power chips into the data center is getting a boost with the Red Hat-sponsored Fedora Project deploying a compute cluster based on servers from Boston Ltd. that are powered by Calxeda processors.

Calxeda and Boston officials announced the deployment May 15, calling it a proof-point for ARM-based production servers and for the ability to run Linux on the architecture.

“The Fedora Project team’s experience—from install to deployment to production—is a testament to compatibility of Linux code on Calxeda: it just works,” Karl Freund, vice president of marketing for Calxeda, said in a statement. “That is what data centers will expect and demand from ARM platforms, and we plan to deliver.”

ARM, which designs low-power chip architectures and licenses them to a broad range of vendors, dominates the mobile device market, with the bulk of smartphones and tablets running on ARM-based systems-on-a-chip (SoCs). ARM executives also see a place for their SoCs in the data center—where Intel is the primary chip vendor—for its designs, particularly for low-power microservers.

The data center is one of a several areas in the growing competition between Intel and ARM. Intel executives have touted the strengths of their Atom platform over the ARM architecture for servers, from its 64-bit capabilities and other features to the familiar x86 programming tools. Intel currently offers its “Centerton” Atom SoCs for microservers, and later this year will release the next-generation “Avoton” chips. Meanwhile, they say, ARM and its partners will still be waiting for the release of the ARMv8 architecture, which will include 64-bit capabilities, as well as greater memory and virtualization support.

However, ARM is getting the attention of OEMs, including Dell and Hewlett-Packard, whose Project Moonshot low-power systems—while beginning with Intel chips—will include ARM-based SoCs from the likes of Texas Instruments and Calxeda. ARM officials also note that some vendors, like Calxeda and Marvell Technologies, already offer 32-bit ARM-based server chips, while Applied Micro sells the 64-bit ARM-based X-Gene SoC. The compute cluster deployed by the Fedora Project is based on 32-bit EnergyCore chips from Calxeda.

Spokespeople for Calxeda told eWEEK that there are many workloads, including software-defined networking and Web hosting, which perform well on 32-bit architectures.

In addition, proponents argue that the growing use of open-source technology—including Linux—in the data center is an advantage for ARM.

"Open source is the great equalizer," Lakshmi Mandyam, director of ARM's Server and Ecosystems unit, told eWEEK last month. "I don't think the gap [between ARM and Intel in server processor technology] is as much as you might think."

The open-source capabilities were a key part of the announcement by Calxeda and Boston. The Fedora Project—which is sponsored by Red Hat and is supported by the Linux community—earlier this year unveiled Fedora 18, the latest version of its open-source operating system distribution. It includes several features specific to ARM’s architecture, including support for industry standards such as Pre-boot Execution Environment (PXE-boot) technology, which is used in automation efforts in data centers to make installing operating systems easier and quicker.

It’s a technology that was used by the Fedora Project in deploying the compute cluster, which includes four Viridis systems from Boston, each of which holds 24 servers.

“It is nice to see the impact of ARM-based production servers on the Fedora Project,” Robyn Bergeron, the Fedora Project leader for Red Hat, said in a statement. ”The new hardware, and help from Calxeda, Red Hat and other Linaro Enterprise Group members, will facilitate ongoing development of Fedora for the ARM architecture.”

The aim of the Linaro Enterprise Group is to accelerate the development of a Linux-based ecosystem for ARM-based server environments.

The Fedora Project is using the compute cluster to build 32-bit software packages specifically for Fedora, the Calxeda spokespeople told eWEEK. The cluster is replacing an older collection of embedded ARM systems. The new Calxeda-based Boston systems offer greater performance, reliability and needed server features than the SoCs made for embedded systems, they said.