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With Rising Power Costs, Are ARM Servers The Future?

With the move to ‘the cloud’, increasing numbers of internet and mobile phone users, renewable resources on the decline, and a focus on green solutions to current problems, server rooms are getting much more expensive to maintain and run.

Nearly all servers are currently running x86 CPU architecture – the type of CPU most people are familiar with. It’s prevalent in laptops and desktops and has been the world leader in CPUs for many years. Those in the know will be familiar with another CPU architecture which has been taking the mobile world by storm, and now it might be on the verge of tapping into the lucrative server market. Enter ARM.

ARM is already responsible for powering 99% of mobile phones and tablets the world over, and Canonical’s ARM Manager David Mandalabelieves that Ubuntu Server on ARM is just around the corner.

A brief history of Ubuntu on ARM

Ubuntu on ARM began in 2008 when the team collaborated directly with ARM itself. Some wonder why Ubuntu didn’t go with the Debian route for ARM, and Mandala pointed out that Debian was compiled for an older version of ARM (v4), whereas Ubuntu was compiled for ARM v7.

Ubuntu’s first ARM release came about in April 2009 (Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope) which supported one board, the Freescale iMX51. In 9.10 and later, Ubuntu on ARM added support for more boards and in Ubuntu 11.10 last year, support was added for the popular Toshiba AC-100 Netbook.

ARM on servers – what’s the point?

ARM servers suck up much less power than traditional x86 hardware, sometimes as little as 12W at full load. They’re also smaller and generate less heat, which means server banks can cram more servers into a rack (up to 72 servers per unit)!

Ubuntu on ARM 12.10 to be released later this year will be the first to support the new ARM Cortex A15 board which has virtualization support.

Where to next?

ARM is gaining traction in 2012, and Mandala expects ARM 64 bit to hit the mainstream over the next 12 months. In 2013, Ubuntu on ARM will support the controversial UEFI boot which replaces the traditional BIOS and introduces “Secure Boot,” and 64 bit also means Ubuntu on ARM will theoretically support up to 16 exabytes(!) of RAM.

In April this year Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin will be released and will mark the first time Ubuntu on ARM images are built from ARMhf (hard float) which will make floating point operations and general code much faster. Some operations (such as font rendering and web page scrolling) have seen up to 30% increases in performance.

All up, Ubuntu on ARM has a promising future, on desktops, netbooks, mobile, TVs, and now, servers.

Learn more about Ubuntu on ARM at ubuntu.com/armand learn more about ARM atarm.com