Published: Sat, March 11, 2017
Technology | By Ramiro Moody

Microsoft Confirms Windows Server Support for ARM

Microsoft Confirms Windows Server Support for ARM

Microsoft is starting to warm up to Qualcomm's ARM Server Chips, announcing that the software giant will partner with the chip manufacturer will bring Windows Server OS to ARM platforms to be shown at the Open Project Compute Summit in Santa Clara, California.

That appears to be an acknowledgement of other players in the datacenter processor space, especially companies like NVIDIA and, now, perhaps Qualcomm as well. When the excitement around ARM server chips started spreading as early as 2011, Intel countered with low-power Atom chips for microservers, which doused the enthusiasm around ARM.

Microsoft sees ARM chips as helpful for its internal datacenter services, handling workloads such as "search and indexing, storage, databases, big data and machine learning", according to van Doorn. In an interview with Bloomberg, Azure VP Jason Zander stated that "this is a significant commitment on behalf of Microsoft". While large cloud companies have moved toward greater use of unbranded servers, storage and networking gear, Intel chips have remained one of the sole big-name products widely in use. "We wouldn't even bring something to a conference if we didn't think this was a committed project and something that's part of our road map". So for now, the ARMv8-compiled Windows Server will be used for internal testing, ahead of any deployment within Microsoft's data centers to provide cloud services. Indeed, Intel's Data Center Group posted $17.2bn of sales and $7.5bn of operating profit in 2016, and it is fair to say that this group is a hugely important revenue driver for Intel in the face of the continued PC decline. Since Microsoft warmed up to the idea of using ARM on laptops, its gravitation towards servers using ARM seems like a normal progression.

Intel may seem calm, but internally, the company may be planning a way to counter the announcement by ARM and Microsoft. The Cavium server motherboard is created to fit into servers based on Microsoft's Project Olympus design.

Lastly, Microsoft believes "ARM is well positioned for future ISA enhancements because its opcode sets are orthogonal". The assembly fits into standard server racks, meaning it's possible to swap out Intel-based systems for ARM servers to run cloud services like Microsoft Azure.

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Both the companies' collaborations are meant to focus on the future that would acceleration servers and memory technologies.

Intel and Qualcomm are supposedly going head-to-head in the market, all the while AMD is also attacking Intel's supremacy in the processor market with their 32-core Naples Chips and Ryzen Chips. Over the past several years, it has rolled out two generations of its X-Gene ARM-based SoCs, and this month began sampling its upcoming 32-core X-Gene 3 chips with a handful of select customers with the hope of pushing the product into cloud environments.

The ARM servers and Microsoft software are now being demonstrated at the 2017 Open Compute Project (OCP) US Summit. Given that Microsoft has largely consolidated Windows into a single common platform, cranking out a Server build for ARM should have been relatively straightforward.

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