Microsoft, Qualcomm Show Off Windows Server on ARM

Posted March 11, 2017

With an established developer and software ecosystem for ARM along with its active development by multiple vendors, the Redmond company believes that servers on ARM are a natural progression for the architecture.

Microsoft has been testing its Windows Server OS on ARM-based servers made by Qualcomm and Cavium, using the machines to run search, storage, machine-learning and big data-related tasks.

The server is based on a new version of Project Olympus, which is an open-source cloud hardware server design developed by Microsoft in collaboration with OCP. The writing was on the wall past year when Redmond announced "Project Olympus" - its next generation hyperscale cloud hardware design. However, only time will tell if this boosts the capabilities of Microsoft's Azure Cloud platform. At the heart of Project Olympus is Qualcomm's Centriq 2400 processor.

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), the market leader in server processors, has expressed its intention to more aggressively migrate its server processor portfolio to its latest-generation manufacturing technologies than it traditionally has.

Q: Why is MS putting Windows Server on ARM? The Project Olympus server design will make it easy for companies to deploy a server that could use a variety of ARM or x86 chips, which until now, was considerably hard. Does this mean you would be somehow running only these workloads on ARM servers and other Azure workloads on Intel/AMD servers?

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In an interview with ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, a Microsoft spokesperson illuminated that use of Windows Server to ARM64 would be exclusively for internal use, adding that "innovation inside Microsoft data centers ultimately benefits customers through greater performance and efficiency".

Microsoft has been running evaluations of ARM servers side by side with its Intel-based production workloads, noted Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Leendert van Doom.

Many other companies like Dell and Lenovo have similarly talked glowingly about ARM servers in the past but failed to deliver stable systems. Besides, if Microsoft is serious about ARM, then Qualcomm is the natural choice of partners. Intel's Xeon server chips still remain among the fastest.

This has helped Microsoft port Windows Server to 64-bit ARM: goodbye all the legacy crap no one needs, from fax drivers to support for every NIC under the sun, and instead a simplified uniform way to access the underlying hardware. Worth noting is that Windows 10 Internet-of-Things (IoT) Core and Windows 10 Mobile, work on ARM Chips.

In a blog entry, ARM and Microsoft said both the companies combined will be "change-makers".

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The move poses a potential challenge to Intel's dominance of the server market, with Intel estimating its processors are inside 98 percent of the machines underpinning cloud services.

"We operate in a highly competitive market and take all competitors seriously".

"We continue to look for ways to empower our customers to create wherever they are".

"However, we understand the desire of our customers to evaluate other product offerings".

Intel may seem calm, but internally, the company may be planning a way to counter the announcement by ARM and Microsoft. Is it because ARM is more power efficient than Intel processors? That's why Microsoft's pledge to use ARM chips in its severs - hinted at for a while and outlined more fully at the Open Compute Summit this week - is such a big deal.

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