Qualcomm's elusive server chips have been available only to top-tier cloud players, but now any developer will be able to work with them using a new cloud service.
Linaro, a consortium of companies developing hardware and software for ARM-based devices, has launched a cloud service aimed at ARM developers. Developers looking to write and test server applications will have remote access to bare-metal ARM servers -- including systems with Qualcomm's upcoming 24-core server chip -- through the service.
The cloud service is a one-stop shop for developers to test a wide range of ARM 64-bit server hardware platforms. The service will also feature ARM-based server chips from AMD, Cavium and Huawei. One chip maker's name that's missing is AppliedMicro, which was among the first to ship an ARM server chip.
The new service is a cheap way for developers to try out ARM servers without investing in the hardware, George Grey, CEO of Linaro, said during a speech at the Linaro Connect conference in Bangkok this week.
Qualcomm entered the ARM server market in October, late compared to rivals who shipped 64-bit server processors as early as 2013. Qualcomm has supplied test versions of its server chips to unspecified top-tier cloud players, and the company has said it will enter the fledgling ARM server market only when it's viable.
Intel dominates the server chip market, but ARM server chips are viewed as an alternative with significant power-efficiency features. The ARM software development effort is ongoing, but ARM has been a stable platform for Web applications based on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) stack.
Qualcomm is the largest company to enter the ARM server space, and it has the resources to break Intel's server dominance. Qualcomm has already shown a prototype server platform running Linux, and the company is targeting the server chips toward companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, which are building mega data centers.
Google was expected to endorse the Qualcomm server chip last month, but that never happened. Google servers are mostly based on x86, but the search company experiments with different chip architectures, so its adoption of a Qualcomm server chip wouldn't be a surprise.
Linaro's cloud service will be available through servers deployed in Cambridge, U.K., and Austin, Texas. It will be launched in China in the second or third quarter, Grey said.
"This project is probably going to last a couple of years until ARM is widely adopted in ... commercial providers," Grey said.
Developers will be able to port open-source software from the ARM servers to their own public or private clouds, Grey added.
The service will also provide access to virtualization, analytics and other applications, according to the Linaro Cloud website.
Some companies are still testing ARM servers, and it's not yet clear when the technology will take off. HP has one ARM-based server, and Dell and Lenovo are experimenting with the chips. A few small server makers are also offering ARM servers.
Low-cost developer boards are also available to test server applications. LeMaker this week announced the $299 Cello board, which runs AMD's ARM server chip.
Dell in 2012 unveiled a similar cloud service where developers had access to a remote ARM server to develop and test code. But Linaro's service is wider in scope and covers most ARM server hardware platforms.