ARM Server Momentum Continues

Marvell and ARM are talking about ARM servers more.

Tuesday November 16, 2010

Intel vs. ARM: The Real Battle

How do the ARM architecture and the x86 architecture promoted by Intel and AMD really compete? During the ARM Technology Conference keynotes last week, ARM and Marvell in particular talked about producing ARM-based chips that make sense competing in servers. And in Intel's pronouncements in the past couple of years, including at the Intel Developer Forum a few weeks back, the company has talked a lot about targeting mobile phones. 

All of that might be true in the long run, but in the next few years, I expect the servermarket will remain dominated by x86 systems and mobile phones by ARM-based processors. Instead, I think the real competition is likely to be in tablet computers--and even there, the two architectures will be competing from very different points of view.

ZT Systems has a press release on their new ARM-Based Server.

ZT Systems Announces ARM-based Server Solution for Breakthrough
Energy Efficiency and Density in Hyperscale Data Centers

Secaucus, NJ – November 18, 2010 – ZT Systems today announced the R1801e 1U Server powered by up to 16 ARM® Cortex™-A9 processor cores. Fully populated with eight server modules, eight SSDs, dual integrated Gigabit Ethernet switches and IPMI server management, this server has a system maximum power draw of less than 80 Watts. Designed primarily as a software and build development system, this groundbreaking, scalable solution highlights the tremendous potential power savings achievable with an ARM-powered® server.

The R1801e features STMicroelectronics’ SPEAr 1310 microprocessor with dual ARM Cortex™-A9 processor cores, plus 1Gbps Ethernet, DDR3 ECC memory and SATA. ZT partnered with PHYTEC America to integrate the SPEAr 1310 onto a server “System-on-Module” (SOM). Each SOM integrates the processor, 1 GB of DDR3 ECC DRAM, 1 GB of NAND Flash, Ethernet PHY, and UART, yielding a scalable architecture with up to eight discrete servers in each enclosure. Two embedded switches connect the server modules together and provide uplinks over standard Ethernet, with system management for each SOM provided via industry standard IPMI.

The press release and other news positions this release as a data center server, but with SSD the cost would seem high on performance per $ view.  There is ECC memory that you expect in a server.

Where would you want a low power SSD base server that is at a higher price point than other ATOM based servers and Via Nano servers like Dell’s XS11-VX8?

What is a possibility for arm servers is military scenarios like naval, air, or army where rugged low power computers are a requirement. 

A large majority of professionals today require fast, reliable computing platforms–be they desktop, laptop, or handheld computers, servers, or similar devices–to get the job done. In the military, however, a soldier’s computer can mean the difference between mission success and failure, and even life and death. A great deal is at stake, and so military leaders make a point to buy the optimal computers for each aerospace and defense application.

“Warfighters have mission-critical requirements and they deserve rugged mobile computers that they can rely on,” says Bill Guyan, vice president of programs & strategy for DRS Tactical Systems Inc. in Melbourne, Fla. “That means ultra-rugged systems that are designed from the start to meet the most demanding operational conditions.

Think of what you want to do if you are running on batteries far from an electric outlet.

A system’s ruggedness and reliability may top the list of requirements for mission-critical computers, but they are followed closely by size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C).

SWaP-C has always played an important role in soldier systems, Guyan explains. “Soldiers already carry heavy loads and they have limited space for carrying large systems or many sets of replacement batteries. Soldier systems also have the potential for fielding in high numbers, so small unit cost differences can matter a great deal.”

Servers are being used more as compute power in military scenarios.

“We are working on mobile applications where rugged servers are replacing rugged laptops,” Ghylin mentions. “Laptops are great when you need to pick up a computer and go, but if the computers are fixed-mounted, a rugged rackmount server is much more appropriate. In a similar amount of rack space as a rugged laptop, a user can install a 1U RS112 server and have access to 8-16 CPU cores at 2.53 GHz, 48 gigabytes of RAM (random access memory), 4 terabytes of storage, and a PCI-Express expansion slot or a high-end graphics card for manipulating digital maps. This is 5 to 10 times the capability that a rugged laptop can provide, but it comes in at a similar price point and similar size profile when rack-mounted.

A further benefit of using a rugged server, Ghylin continues, is that it can be virtualized to replace up to 16 clients. “This means that one server can replace up to 16 laptops through the use of virtualization software. This approach not only saves cost, but more importantly for mobile applications, saves substantial size, weight, and complexity.

ARM Servers are getting more and more visibility.