Microsoft is testing a version of its Windows Server operating system for servers powered by ARM processors, Bloomberg Business Week reported citing anonymous sources.
Low-power ARM chips are inside most of the world’s smartphones, but a handful of companies have adopted the architecture – which they license from Cambridge, England-based ARM Holdings – for System-on-Chip cards for servers. They compete most closely with Intel’s Atom architecture in the server space.
It took a few years for processor makers to come up with 64-bit ARM chips for servers, and earlier this month HP became the first vendor to bring an ARM-based server to market, releasing two versions of its Moonshot microservers, one powered by Applied Micro’s 64-bit X-Gene SoC, and the other powered by Texas Instruments’ 32-bit ARM SoC.
Rather than competing with general-purpose commodity x86 servers, ARM servers are positioned for specific workloads. HP’s 64-bit Moonshot, for example, is geared toward web-caching workloads in web-scale service provider data centers. The 32-bit version is optimized for real-time data processing in video, encoding and audio analysis workloads, leveraging TI’s extensive digital signal processing capabilities.
Besides engineering challenges associated with server hardware to support the new architecture, the ARM server ecosystem also needs to address the lack of commonly used software that can be ported onto these systems. Windows Server is a widely used server operating system, and support by Microsoft is bound to make a big difference in speed of adoption of ARM servers by data center customers.
Canonical, one of the leading vendors of Linux distributions, already supports ARM publicly. HP’s ARM-based Moonshot servers come with a bundle of Linux software by Canonical preinstalled.
It will be important for Microsoft, Canonical, or any other company building software for the ARM architecture, to ensure that there is as little difference as possible from the user’s standpoint between writing software for x86 and ARM servers.
John Zannos, vice president of cloud alliances and channels at Canonical, told us the company’s approach in creating software for ARM was to make sure a developer can write a piece of software on one OS or processor architecture but be able deploy it on another.
“We’re trying to make as few changes as possible,” he said. “We don’t’ anticipate it to be a big porting exercise.”