What’s All This ARM Stuff Going On?
First let me just say ”I love my Intel Core i7 gaming CPU”, and I couldn’t get anything done at work without my Intel-based Macbook Pro laptop. So, with that said, where is all of this buzz coming from with ARM processors lately? I can understand a low power chip working out well for a tablet or a cellular phone (ala Apple’s A7 chip), but in the server space? MORE POWER! I mean really, a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Php) stack for ARM Linux for ARM distributions are out and are available by Ubuntu, Debian, and others.
As I read more about what people are hoping to utilize these new ARM64 chips from Applied Micro (APM), AMD, and Cavium, I realize that they are hoping to get more work done for the watt, and at the same time look for an alternative to the current offerings that dominate the market.
But with these new up and comers bringing a robust 64-bit CPU with features that servers need, more I/O, better memory management, flexible network connections, even entire System on a Chip options (X-Gene from APM), these chips are going to be contenders. Intel makes great chips and they can do a lot, but for some markets, it makes sense to use a CPU that uses 40% less energy and still can carry 80% of the load, especially at a lower price per chip. Think of an entire LAMP server farm of webhosting, using as little as 8kW instead of 12kW of power, but still providing all the needed horsepower for web traffic. We’re seeing a lot of interest in getting more work done with GPUs, and lowering the cost of a workstation by replacing the x86 CPU with a lower cost ARM but still being able to provide from 1-8 full sized GPUs means that spending less on the CPU means more available cash for those up and coming GPUs. Even in High Performance Computing where x86 CPUs are being connected to GPUs as fast as they can be shipped in from the factory scientists and engineers are looking at ARM64 as a viable “CPU Glue” to do not much more than tie the GPU cluster together.
I think that people are used to having choices. Coke vs Pepsi, Ford vs Chevy, Pink vs Gwen Stefani. In designing server solutions it seems that system admins, datacenter operators, and workstation users are also looking for an alternative choice to the only thing that’s been available for the last 10 years. I’m looking forward to seeing what else these companies and others may come up with to keep the current market dominators focused on constructive competition that will bring more value for the money and push the envelope of what is possible. Competition is healthy, and that’s why this ARM stuff looks promising.