ARM Arrives – Calxeda Shows Real Hardware Running Linux

Richard Fichera
Vice President, Principal Analyst
May 7, 2012

I said last year that this would happen sometime in the first half of this year, but for some reason my colleagues and clients have kept asking me exactly when we would see a real ARM server running a real OS. How about now?

 To copy from Calxeda’s most recent blog post:

“This week, Calxeda is showing a live Calxeda cluster running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on real EnergyCore hardware at the Ubuntu Developer and Cloud Summit events in Oakland, CA. … This is the real deal; quad-core, w/ 4MB cache, secure management engine, and Calxeda’s fabric all up and running.”

This is a significant milestone for many reasons. It proves that Calxeda can indeed deliver a working server based on its scalable fabric architecture, although having HP signing up as a partner meant that this was essentially a non-issue, but still, proof is good. It also establishes that at least one Linux distribution provider, in this case Ubuntu, is willing to provide a real supported distribution. My guess is that Red Hat and Centos will jump on the bus fairly soon as well.

Most importantly, we can get on with the important work of characterizing real benchmarks on real systems with real OS support. HP’s discovery centers will certainly play a part in this process as well, and I am willing to bet that by the end of the summer we will have some compelling data on whether the ARM server will deliver on its performance and energy efficiency promises. It’s not a slam dunk guaranteed win – Intel has been steadily ratcheting up its energy efficiency, and the latest generation of x86 server from HP, IBM, Dell, and others show promise of much better throughput per watt than their predecessors. Add to that the demonstration of a Xeon-based system by Sea Micro (ironically now owned by AMD) that delivered Xeon CPUs at a 10 W per CPU power overhead, an unheard of efficiency.

But this kind of competition is what drives the technology business, and the outcome of this skirmish will in the end benefit anyone who needs a server in the coming years with increased options and continued pressure on incumbents to do better.

Hats off to the Calxeda team for a major milestone.

I'm interested in hearing from anyone with strong opinions pro or con — would you consider an ARM server? If so, for what workloads?


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