Dell to bring ARM, x86 server chips closer

Dell supports the Open Compute Project's systems management framework, which works on ARM and x86 servers

Dell is trying to bring the ARM and x86 processors closer by supporting a new systems management technology, a step toward making both the CPU technologies interoperable, the company said on Wednesday.

Dell will back the Open Compute Project systems management framework, which will support both the ARM and x86 processors, said Tracy Davis, general manager of Dell's Data Center Solutions business, in a blog entry on Wednesday.

"We believe this ability to provide a uniform systems management experience is a huge step forward in the co-existence of ARM and x86 architectures in the data center," Davis wrote.

Technologies to bring x86 and ARM processors closer were announced at the Open Compute Summit organized by Facebook in Santa Clara, California. The technologies also include the common slot design through which x86 and ARM CPU technologies can be installed on a single motherboard.

Dell is investigating support for the common slot design, said Erin Zehr, a Dell spokeswoman, in an email. If Dell supports the common slot design, the company will be able to build servers that include x86 and ARM CPUs.

ARM processors are found in most smartphones and tablets today, but have drawn interest for use in servers to handle massive volumes of Web transactions. Some believe servers with many ARM processors could reduce energy costs by efficiently processing Web requests such as search or social network requests. However most servers today run on x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

Dell and Hewlett-Packard are currently offering prototype ARM servers to customers for testing, benchmarking and software development. Analysts have said that ARM could make an impact in 2014, and chip makers including Advanced Micro Devices and Calxeda have 64-bit ARM server chips in the pipeline.

Dell's Davis said the company is closely watching both x86 and ARM server technologies.

Chip packages with I/O and networking currently use 32-bit ARM processors, while x86 chips are 64-bit, which helps plug more storage and memory into servers. ARM in October last year announced the Cortex-A57 64-bit processor, which is based on the ARMv8 architecture.

At the Open Compute Summit, Dell is showing a 64-bit server with AppliedMicro's 64-bit X-Gene ARM chip, which is scalable to 128 CPU cores running at 3GHz. The company already has two 32-bit ARM servers, but is now focusing on 64-bit ARM servers.

Dell spokeswoman Zehr declined to comment on a specific date when the server will become available.

Dell previously showed a 64-bit server with the AppliedMicro chip at the ARM TechCon show in early November.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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