Now that 64-bit ARM processors are starting to generate some interest inside the data center, providers of Linux distributions like Suse are starting to get in line.
Today Suse announced that version 12 of Suse Enterprise Linux will be supported on 64-bit ARM server processors from AMD, AppliedMicro, and Cavium powering servers by Dell, HP, Huawei, and SoftIron.
Gerald Pfeifer, senior director of product management and operations for Suse, said that while ARM server chips are not set to usurp Intel’s x86 architecture inside the data center any time soon, Suse is starting to see enough momentum to warrant providing official support.
“ARM isn’t ready to rule the world,” said Pfeifer. “But interest is very high.”
Much of that interest is being driven by both improving performance attributes of 64-bit ARM processors and the fact that they require much less power to run than rival processor architectures. As such, Pfeifer said, Suse views providing support for 64-bit ARM processors as an opportunity to expand the base of IT organizations adopting Suse Enterprise Linux across multiple processor platforms.
Version 12 of Suse Enterprise Linux already runs on 64-bit x86 servers, IBM Power Systems, and IBM System z mainframes.
As part of that strategy, Suse has implemented support for ARM and AArch64 into its openSUSE Build Service, which makes it possible to build packages against real 64-bit ARM hardware running SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 binaries with an eye toward reducing the time required to build, test, and ship products based on 64-bit ARM architectures.
Initially, 64-bit ARM server processors are expected to manifest themselves in both appliances and in hyperscale computing environments. Obviously, those are market segments that every processor manufacturer covets, which means support from Linux distributors is critical to the long-term viability of any processor technology.
Another critical factor is the degree to which adding support for a new processor architecture is offset by any power consumption savings actually generated. While the cost of power in Europe, for example, is a major issue, power costs outside of hyperscale environments running cloud applications are not nearly as big a motivator to consider alternative processor architectures in parts of the world where the cost of power is relatively cheap.
In fact, with the advent of Big Data applications and containers the next big fight over processors in the data center may come down to the amount of memory being made available rather than the actual speed of the processor or the amount of energy it consumes.
Naturally, it will be several years before this latest round in the processor wars finally plays out. Server vendors clearly have a vested interest in using ARM to counter the dominance of Intel in the data center. But even if ARM servers were to be widely adopted inside the data center starting tomorrow, it wouldn’t be until the next decade arrived before ARM could even hope to account for half of the server install base.