Microsoft's Windows Server OS runs on ARM, with help from Qualcomm

The companies will show Microsoft's Windows Server running on a server with a Qualcomm Centriq 2400 chip

Microsoft has warmed up to Qualcomm to make a Windows 10 PC based on its ARM chip, and now the companies are bringing Windows Server OS to ARM.

For the first time ever, Microsoft is expected to show the Windows Server OS running on an ARM server. The server runs on Qualcomm's Centriq 2400, an ARM-based chip designed for cloud servers.

The server is being shown at the Open Project Compute Summit being held in Santa Clara, California, on Wednesday and Thursday.The ARM-based Windows Server hardware is for Microsoft's internal use. No information was shared on when Windows Server would be available for ARM servers.

The ARM-based Windows Server hardware is for Microsoft's internal use. The company didn't share information about when Windows Server would be available for ARM servers.

Putting Windows Server on ARM is a big deal. Way back in 2011, Microsoft said it had no interest in putting the Windows Server OS on ARM servers. Since then, rumors have surfaced that Windows Server 2016 was being ported to ARM, but this is the first time the OS is being shown working on the hardware.

Like with PCs, current editions of Windows Server only run on systems with x86 chips from Intel and AMD. But Microsoft has been warming up to ARM on laptops and now servers. The company's Windows 10 IoT Core and Windows 10 Mobile already work on ARM chips.

Microsoft and Qualcomm worked for many years to bring Windows Server to Centriq 2400. The collaboration will continue for future generations of server hardware and software, the companies said.

The goal with Windows Server on ARM is to run next-generation Microsoft cloud services on servers with Qualcomm's Centriq 2400 chips, the companies said in a statement.

Intel, which dominates the server chip market with more than a 90 percent share, will surely take notice of this announcement. Microsoft's support for Qualcomm is a strong statement that the software company is ready to consider an alternative architecture for Windows Server.

Qualcomm has developed special Windows Server hardware based on its Centriq 2400 processor. The Centriq Open Compute Motherboard server has 48 CPU cores and fits into a 1U server chassis. It has multiple I/O and networking interfaces and supports the latest storage protocols.

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.

ARM servers haven't caught on despite being hyped and tested for more than five years. ARM's server chips are mainly derived from smartphone chip design, and the low-power features could reduce electricity bills for data centers. ARM servers already run on Linux OS, but the application ecosystem is limited.

Qualcomm's Centriq has an advanced design and high level of integration of I/O and networking protocols and is bringing back interest in ARM servers. The chipmaker is working with many partners to boost adoption of the technology. As Qualcomm progresses up the server ladder, rival ARM chipmakers have been dropping like flies, while server chips from some of them are being mainly used as network and storage processors.

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