Looks like ARM-based servers in the data center are inching ever closer to reality.
Last week, Dell took the wraps off Copper, an ARM server platform based on the computer maker’s PowerEdge C5000 microserver architecture. Instead of run-of-the-mill Intel Xeon chips, each blade-like “sled” contains four 1.6 GHz Marvell Armada XP ARM-based processors, each of which gets a dedicated DIMM slot that accommodates up to 8 GB of RAM.
In short, each sled acts like four servers. And each Copper chassis can hold 12 sleds. That’s 48 servers that consume just 750 Watts of power.
Christina Tiner says it best in her video tour of the system, “Copper takes density to a whole new level.”
Though you probably won’t be running processor-intensive business apps — actually you won’t, the systems are running little else but a Canonical Ubuntu distro — Dell envisions that Copper systems will one day they’ll breeze through web front-end workloads and Big Data apps based on Hadoop.
From Little Chips to a Big Deal in the Enterprise
ARM mobile processors power the vast majority of today’s smartphones and tablets. The reason is simple, they have enough grunt to run sophisticated apps while keeping energy requirements low.
This is incredibly important in the mobile space because if folks couldn’t make a phone call after a quick Draw Something session because their batteries were drained, people would fume and Apple, Samsung Motorola and HTC would be flooded with product returns.
In the data center, battery life isn’t as much of a concern as is running out of available power. The processor is one of the biggest energy consumers in a server, and having an efficient yet powerful enough chip — or chips –inside means data center operators can save big on energy costs.
That’s why what Dell’s doing is so important. Yes, there’s little in the way of an ARM server software ecosystem but the company is doing its part to get the ball rolling by making early models available to developer and the open source community, in addition to letting folks kick the tires on the system in a technology testing center.
Here’s the plan, according to a blog post by Steve Cumings, the executive director of the Dell Data Center Solutions group.
- Shipping the new Dell “Copper” ARM server through a seed unit program to a select list of customers worldwide. There is no general availability at this time.
- Delivering Copper seed units to key ecosystem partners to support their development activities.
- Enabling other customers and developers by providing remote-accessible Copper ARM server clusters deployed in Dell Solution Centers, and through our deep partnership with the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). These clusters will be in place by the end of the year.
Why is this all so important?
Because Dell is the second major server maker to start backing the concept of ARM servers. While Project Moonshot from HP and Calxeda was an exciting push forward for the technology, Dell adds some momentum to the cause and makes widespread adoption a bigger possibility.
There’s also the tantalizing whispers that embattled AMD is getting cozy with ARM to compete against Intel. ARM is even reportedly keynoting AMD’s upcoming developer conference. Hmmm…
Could AMD leverage its SeaMicro acquisition — the latter took a similar approach but with a custom compute fabric and Intel Atom and low-power Xeons processors — to not only drive sales of it’s own x86 chips but also AMD-ARM silicon? We’ll just have to wait and see.
For now, catch the Copper intro videos from Dell Data Center Solutions’ Christina Tiner and Steve Cumings below.
Screen grab courtesy of Dell
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