Deliver 64-bit first, talk after
Firstly, ARM has to deliver its new architecture on time with its first ARM V8 implementations with Cortex A53 and A57. 64-bit computing is a baseline requirement to enter the space and today it is, unfortunately, MIA in ARM world.
If AR’sr products don’t have 64-bit, they can be considered dead on arrival in the data center, and the reality is that it will be at least two years before we see any ARM products that have this capability. Fact.
Two years is a long time in product cycles, which means that as this new category of microservers grows, customers will only have one company they can buy product from for the foreseeable future, Intel.
ARM also has to deliver on time and with scale. While Cortex A15 is a tremendous new architecture it has largely limped out of the gate in 2012 and we won’t see the majority of designs until next year. Hopefully, for ARM’s sake V8 will have a smoother birth in 2014.
Secondly, ARM will need to build an eco-system in record time. The server world is a complex one, driven by a broad eco-system of applications and workloads that have been optimized over many years to run exceptionally well on X86 processors. Moving these workloads over to a competing architecture is not a trivial matter, just look at the launch of Windows RT on the consumer side to see the pitfalls of lack of application compatibility and low performance.
Nobody can argue that low power in the data center isn’t a tremendous driver today, but applications compatibility remains essential. In this area ARM will need to step up and create an eco-system that minimizes the deficit of compatible applications and workloads for its architecture rather than simply leaving this to customers.
Management will also be a huge issue that needs to be addressed. A rather large number of companies have aspirations to participate in the ARM server market. Calxeda, Applied Micro, Samsung and AMD are all committed to bringing products to market in the coming years and more will follow.
With the exception of AMD, very few of these companies have any real expertise in data center management which could be problematic as they try and convince enterprise IT executives to deploy a mixed environment of X86 and ARM.
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