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Packet and ARM Hope to Lure Developers to Bare-Metal ARM Cloud

Pitch free developer access to ARM servers delivered as a service in Packet data centers

Bare-metal cloud service provider Packet has partnered with processor designer ARM Holdings for Works on ARM, a project to bring bare-metal ARM processors to developers by way of its cloud. This will supply free on-demand access to Armv8-A bare metal systems from Cavium, Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies, Huawei, and others, opening the door for software projects to test against a variety of data center-grade machines.

Yes, you read correctly. The service is free. Paid for by ARM, which is also supporting five engineers who will be on-hand at Packet data center locations to make sure everything goes smoothly. ARM's reasoning should be obvious. Unlike most microprocessor suppliers, the company isn't engaged in the manufacturing process but develops its technology and then licenses it. It follows that the more use cases that are found, the more licenses it can sell -- or the more money it can make from existing licenses. Additionally, while ARM dominates the mobile market, data centers are an x86 world, and relatively little software has been written to run on ARM servers, which is a major barrier to adoption of the UK company's architecture in the data center market, so attracting developers to the platform is strategically crucial.

The organizations already in line to use the new service include Docker’s LinuxKit team, NixOS, Golang, Resin.io and CoreOS Container Linux.

Developers have had access to ARM servers through the Linaro Developer Cloud. However, Linaro provides ARM running an entire application stack, and developers often require direct access to physical infrastructure to build and deploy next-generation workloads that fully utilize the underlying hardware capabilities. This also gives them a way to make sure their software works on the most basic ARM installation before tweaking it to work and play well with someone else's software. There are other reasons as well, but you get the picture.

This isn't Packet's first go at offering bare-metal access to ARM. Last November, the company began offering a fee-based program at the bargain rate of $0.50 per hour for 96 cores in a pilot program utilizing it's own servers using Cavium technology. The program came complete with a "Works on ARM" website to help customers and to pull together the ecosystem.

"We knew the market wasn't ready for it," Jacob Smith, Packet's SVP of engagement, told Data Center Knowledge. "But then we started working with ARM."

According to him, Packet and ARM "looked at how to expand the effort, fund it ongoing, and bring in the other hardware vendors."

The relationship with ARM was a natural, as the two companies had recently become somewhat related. Last September ARM became a fully-owned subsidiary of SoftBank Group; during the same month SoftBank became a major investor in Packet, leading its $9.4 million Series A funding round.

"With the announcement today we can now carry forward with the effort, with ARM's financial support and a collaboration between the major players as they all release new processors and systems," Smith added.

Initially, the new program is utilizing about five racks of servers, he said. If needed, users will be able to choose servers from a particular manufacturer, which, among other things, will give them early access to systems as they come to market.

As part of the partnership, Packet has re-launched worksonarm.com as a public source of information. It will also help end users, developers, partners, and ARM collaborage to accelerate the adoption of ARM servers in the data center.

"Adopting the benefits of new hardware architectures starts with establishing a robust ecosystem," Jeff Underhill, director of open source enablement for ARM's infrastructure group, said in a statement. "Packet’s position as a trusted partner in the developer community will enable rapid adoption of these powerful new resources to accelerate interest, compatibility, and demand. By collaborating across the ecosystem, Works On Arm is a testament to the growing strength and diversity of the Arm server market."

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