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IDG News Service - There's been a lot of talk from hardware vendors about 64-bit ARM servers, but without software the fledgling platform won't get very far. Several big vendors made announcements this week that show software support is on its way.
Red Hat, Oracle, Cloudera and Citrix all announced development plans for 64-bit ARM hardware. And Linaro said it had kicked off a multi-vendor effort to develop some standards around Linux on ARM and try to avoid fragmentation, which could hinder adoption.
The announcements capped off a big week for ARM, in which Advanced Micro Devices announced it would build ARM-based server chips, and Dell showed a prototype 64-bit ARM server, using some of the first sample silicon from Applied Micro Circuits.
The software vendors joined AppliedMicro during a session at ARM's TechCon conference to announce their support for its ARMv8 architecture, which includes the 64-bit extensions. Proponents say ARM servers will be significantly more energy efficient for certain cloud and big-data analytics workloads, though there's little information about how they perform in real-world tests.
Red Hat is targeting the first half of next year for a release of Fedora, the community version of Red Hat Linux, that runs on 64-bit ARM chips, said Jon Masters, Red Hat's chief ARM architect. Fedora acts as a test bed for new features before they're added to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Red Hat started its work a year ago and already has some Fedora code running on prototypes of AppliedMicro's 64-bit ARM chips, Masters said. The support for ARMv8 will come with a "remix" of Fedora 19, he said.
The release will include "a full LAMP stack and more," Masters said, referring to the software stack of Linux, Apache Web server, MySQL and PHP. When it adds the 64-bit support, Red Hat will stop supporting 32-bit ARM, he said.
It's not a walk in the park to port an OS to a new chip architecture, however, and Masters said the work is "very complex."
Red Hat is also part of Linaro's Linux Enterprise Group, along with Facebook, Hewlett-Packard and others. Customers need a standard Linux platform so that they can take their software and install it on any server and know it will work, he said.
Oracle said it was working on a version of Java Standard Edition for the 64-bit ARM architecture, though it didn't give a time frame. Java SE forms the basis for Java Enterprise Edition, the version deployed with many server applications.
"I'd guess that three-quarters of all server software in the world is written in Java today," said Henrik Stalh, a senior director of product management at Oracle.
Citrix has started porting its Xen hypervisor to ARMv8, said CTO Ahmed Sallam. It's aiming to complete a prototype port in the first quarter next year and begin validation on AppliedMicro's hardware in the second quarter, he said.
Virtualization isn't an obvious candidate for ARM servers, given their focus on efficiency rather than performance. But virtualization can be useful for moving workloads between servers for maintenance, among other tasks.