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Battle ready: HP rolls out first 64bit ARM-based server

30 Sep 2014  | Rick Merritt

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The first enterprise-class ARM-based server was launched today. Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced that it is shipping models using ARM-based SoCs from Applied Micro and Texas Instruments. PayPal, Sandia National Labs and the University of Utah are HP's first users of the systems.

The news marks a small but significant milestone of commercial deployments of 64- and 32bit ARM-based servers in a market dominated by Intel x86 processors. To date, large rivals such as Dell have shipped prototype ARM servers, and small companies such as Boston Ltd. have sold small quantities of ARM servers.

"We're entering a new era of competition between ARM and Intel in servers with real products shipping that's really just a start of what will be a long competition," says Linley Gwennap, principal of market watcher The Linley Group. "We don't expect to see a lot of servers shipping with ARM this year. It's more a time of testing and trying things out—the volumes won't really start ramping for a year or so."

Competition will heat up in 12 to 18 months when AMD, Broadcom and Cavium start shipping SoCs using custom 64bit ARM cores, and Applied Micro may have its third generation X-Gene ready. "At that point the market should start getting really competitive, and we'll see more performance and higher core counts, so interest in ARM servers will take off," Gwennap predicts.

HP's new Proliant m400 uses Applied Micro's X-Gene, which packs eight 2.4GHz custom 64bit ARM cores. HP is also making the system available remotely to developers as a software development platform.

The m400 packs up to 45 X-Gene cartridges in one 4.3U chassis. Each cartridge supports up to 64GB DDR3 DRAM and 480GB flash and runs Ubuntu server 14.04 LTS. The system supports 10G Ethernet links.

HP Moonshot server

HP's processor-agnostic Moonshot servers can use a variety of x86 and ARM-based SoCs packaged in cartridges.

The Proliant m800 uses TI's Keystone II, which packs four Cortex-A15 32bit cores and eight TI C66x DSPs. It also packs up to 45 processor cartridges in a 4.3U chassis.

In addition to use at PayPal, HP is gearing the system for telecom operators, using software from third parties to attract deals among telecom OEMs designing ATCA systems.

Both systems will run Canonical's Ubuntu version of Linux, the only operating system HP currently has available for its ARM-based servers. IBM's Informix is currently the only shipping database.

The software ecosystem for ARM servers "is still shaky, there needs to be a lot more software development going on and it will take time," says Gwennap.

HP is "interested in working with Red Hat" and other Linux suppliers, says Susan Blocher, who joined HP from IBM in February to head up product management and business development for Moonshot servers. "I'd like to see some success outside the web space in app development for scientific labs."

Users and their workloads

Intel got the first ride in a Moonshot system with its Atom-based Centerton server SoC. HP started shipping systems in February with Avoton, Intel's follow-up SoC using the Silvermont Atom core.

The x86 systems are geared either for remote desktops using Citrix Xen or as "web-infrastructure-in-a-box," HP's Blocher says.

HP is seeing the most traction for its X-Gene-based Proliant m400 as a web server. It is also being sold to run popular datacenter apps such as memcached. One start-up is buying the systems to host a cloud service for developing mobile applications, given the server's native ARM cores.

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