Calxeda, the chip firm working to bring the ARM architecture to the server market, has demonstrated a working prototype system running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, bringing the promise of energy efficient ARM servers a step closer to the datacentre.
The demonstration at the Ubuntu Developer and Cloud Summit in California was of a 2U system capable of being configured with up to 48 of Calxeda's quad-core EnergyCore system-on-a-chip (SoC) packages.
It was running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS along with a standard Lamp stack, support for OpenStack Nova compute instances, and Canonical's Metal-as-a-Service (MaaS) provisioning tool.
Writing on the company's Armservers.com blog, Calxeda's Karl Freund said that end-user shipments ARM-based systems will begin over the next four to eight weeks, while volume shipments are expected to begin later in the year from HP and other system vendors.
"After months of discussion, debate, claims, and counterclaims, the industry can now begin a fact-based dialog about Calxeda-based servers. What applications are appropriate? Are they fast enough? How much can they really save large internet and IT shops?" Freund wrote.
Calxeda's aim is not so much to compete with the established industry server platforms such as Intel's Xeon on straight performance, but more on keeping down the cost for delivering a particular level of performance, especially in terms of power consumption.
"What really matters is the total power and cost of a cluster for a particular workload. Not a processor, or even an SoC. A cluster of Calxeda server nodes will consume only five watts each, complete with DRAM memory," Freund claimed.
Forrester analyst Richard Fichera hailed the demonstration as a significant milestone, but said that the success of such ARM-based systems is not "guaranteed".
"Intel has been steadily ratcheting up its energy efficiency, and the latest generation of x86 servers from HP, IBM, Dell and others show promise of much better throughput per watt than their predecessors," he wrote on the Forrester blog.
Calxeda's EnergyCore SoC devices have up to four Cortex-A9 cores on board clocked at 1.1 to 1.4GHz and an integrated DDR3 memory controller, as well as embedded PCI Express and up to 5 10Gbit/s Ethernet ports managed by an on-chip fabric switch.
Daniel Robinson is technology editor at V3, and has been working as a technology journalist for over two decades. Dan has served on a number of publications including PC Direct and enterprise news publication IT Week. Areas of coverage include desktops, laptops, smartphones, enterprise mobility, storage, networks, servers, microprocessors, virtualisation and cloud computing.