USENIX: Red Hat prepares for 64-bit ARM servers

ARM processors could lead to server racks with thousands of nodes, the Red Hat ARM chief predicts

By , IDG News Service |  Hardware

Enterprise open-source software vendor Red Hat is keeping an eye on the development of 64-bit ARM processors for servers, building up expertise in case the nascent platform takes hold in the data center.

"You don't see us in the market today with commercial offerings, but what we are building a competency ahead of some of the 64-bit technology that is coming. So further down the line, if we do have a need to respond to the market, we will have the capability to do that," said Jon Masters, chief ARM architect at Red Hat. Masters spoke Friday at the USENIX LISA (Large Installation System Administration) conference in Washington, D.C.

The ARM processor represents a "sea change in computing," Masters said. While already the dominant architecture for smartphone and embedded computing devices, ARM processors could also play a role in the data center. Over the past year, servers based on ARM processors have started to show up in the server market. HP is already selling ARM-based servers with its Moonshot line.

For the data center, because of its low-power design, ARM could bring about an age of hyperscale computing, in which thousands of tiny compute nodes can be packed into a single server rack. "It is a fundamental difference in terms of the sheer scale of what we will be able to build in the near future," Masters said.

The ARM processors may not run at the speed of x86 processors, but they can offer most of the performance with a fraction of the energy usage, meaning more processors can be packed into a smaller space. "You can take the same technology that goes into your cell phone and make that part of a dense server design" Masters said.

Many jobs do not require the fastest processors available, he said. Instead the workloads can be spread across more processors. "It's about how much data I can move, not necessarily how much compute I can do," he said. Cloud computing and Web applications, for instance, would do equally well spread out across multiple servers as they would running on fewer, but faster servers.

ARM's design could also simplify data-center operations. ARM's system on a chip design can eliminate the need for managing many of the external components of servers. For instance, an ARM processor could offer fabric interconnectivity, reducing the need for external cables and top-of-the-rack switches.

"The days of having discrete cabling for every single blade are numbered," he said.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to bring about hyperscale computing, Masters said.

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