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64-bit Ubuntu Raspberry Pi 3 Arm Server Image Now Available

This morning there is some great news for fans of the popular Raspberry Pi 3 single board computer, looking to run 64-bit Ubuntu Arm Server on their board!

The Ubuntu team, with support from Arm, has released a ready-made image that can be written to an SD Card and directly booted on a Raspberry Pi 3B or 3B+, with no configuration necessary.  We were able to give this image a test, and although it is technically considered a beta, it seems most everything is working and all of the standard functionality one would expect from Ubuntu Server intact!

You can download the image here:  http://cdimage.ubuntu.com/releases/18.04/beta/

Once the image is downloaded, it needs to be extracted, and can then be written to an SD Card.  Of course, the higher the read and write speed of the SD Card, the better overall system performance will be.

After getting the image written and inserted in to the Pi, take note that the first boot may take a few minutes while the OS goes through a few setup routines.

A quick run through the system showed the basic console hardware requirements of HDMI, USB, and Ethernet all worked out of the box, as well as WiFi.  SSH is enabled and working, and normal software installation and updating via ‘apt’ package management is working great.  As an added bonus, the image comes with ‘cloud-init’ setup to automatically expand the partition on the SD Card to the maximum capacity of the card, generate SSH keys, configure networking for the LXD container runtime (which is also preinstalled), and finally force a password change upon first login to the system.

All said, this means the Ubuntu Arm Server image is ready to use immediately upon writing the SD Card and booting the Pi!

In the past, it was technically possible to bootstrap a system using a custom built kernel and an Ubuntu rootfs, then add Pi-specific firmware and drivers.  After that you had to add users, manually install networking, and add even basic system utilities.  That process required in-depth knowledge of system installation and configuration, and was not something most users could tackle on their own.  However, thanks to the efforts of the Ubuntu Arm team in creating this new ready-made image, no advanced knowledge of the Linux build process is required, and even casual Raspberry Pi users can be up and running easily!

One final thing to keep in mind, is that this image is fully intended to be a 64-bit Ubuntu Arm Server platform!  Use cases such as File or Print servers, DNS, MySQL or other database servers, web front-end caching, or other lightweight services all make sense for this platform.  It can also be used for installation and testing of Aarch64 software, developing and compiling Arm64 applications, exploring containers, or even production workloads where possible!  Small, distributed compute workloads, IoT services, Industrial Internet of Things, environmental monitoring, remote compute capacity in non-traditional settings, or many other uses cases are all possible.  While a desktop *can* be installed, due to the limited memory on the Raspberry Pi, only a lightweight desktop like LXDE or XFCE will truly work, with both Mate and Gnome quickly running out of memory, moving to Swap, and then slowing the system to a crawl.   Even so, desktop performance in this image is not optimized, so sticking with the intended use of this image as a Server OS makes the most sense.

In summary, thanks to a collaborative effort from Arm and the Ubuntu teams, the community now has a ready-made Raspberry Pi 3B(+) 64-bit Ubuntu Arm Server image!
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How to Install Ubuntu on an Arm Server

As a follow up to our previous blog post offering advice and options for purchasing an Arm Server, the second most frequent question we receive is regarding how to install Ubuntu on an Arm Server. This of course varies depending on the hardware you have chosen, but typically follows one of two options (with some customization likely to be necessary for Option 2).

The easiest method for installing Ubuntu on Arm is to acquire SBSA compatible hardware. This is typically a more expensive option, but because of a standard UEFI boot processes and hardware description, direct downloads of Debian Aarch64, Fedora Arm, CentOS Aarch64, and Ubuntu Arm Server install in a normal manner. Simply write the downloaded Ubuntu Arm Server image to a USB drive, insert it into the Arm Server, and then boot from that device to start the process. The installation process will then install the operating system to a local hard drive, setup the Grub bootloader, and configure the OS for boot. Typical units in this scenario are Cavium ThunderX or ThunderX2 servers, Qualcomm Centriq 2400 servers, or Softiron Overdrive 1000 or 3000 AMD Opteron A1100 servers. These machines simply install and boot operating systems in a “normal” fashion, similar to x86 counterparts.

A second, cheaper option, is to use a single board computer such as a Raspberry Pi, an Odroid, a NanoPi, a Pine64, or others. In this scenario, the board vendor is usually the one to develop and release the Ubuntu Arm image, though sometimes the Armbian team also provides an image that can be written directly to an SD Card and booted. For example, the Pine64 and many Odroid, FriendlyArm, OrangePi, and BananaPi models have pre-configured 32-bit and 64-bit Ubuntu Arm images available for installation (depending on the exact model). They typically contain a SoC-specific kernel, paired with an Ubuntu Arm rootfs, and need to written to an SD Card and then inserted into the board. Sometimes these boards also contain permanent storage such as eMMC, and the OS can be then be transferred from the SD Card to teh eMMC, depending on the model.

As always, if you have any feedback, let us know in the comments!

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ArmTechCon Recap

As you may have seen here and here, miniNodes recently got invited to participate at ArmTechCon, inside Arm’s own “Innovation Pavilion” in the Expo Hall.  Because our core business of hosting tiny Arm Servers isn’t that exciting to show off, especially at the biggest Arm ecosystem event of the year, we partnered with Robert Wolff and the awesome team at 96Boards to come up with something a bit more intriguing.   🙂

After some back and forth, we landed on a solar powered, connected, mobile developer and edge computing platform. The idea was to build a self-contained and self-powered box that could be taken out and used in geographically isolated areas, that could still have connectivity back to a central cloud provider. The actual use cases could vary dramatically, but the common theme is that there is a lack of infrastructure, electricity, or wifi in the targeted region. The box would be powered by solar panels for this iteration, but could also accept other renewable sources such as wind, hydroelectric via a waterwheel or impeller, geothermal, or more.

So, as one potential use case, we envisioned using the box in remote villages or locales that don’t have the typical infrastructure needed to teach development, AI, machine learning, edge computing, remote code or container deployment, or other advanced computer science topics.

The end goal is to provide everything as open source, with a Bill of Materials and instructions for anyone to replicate the build, using readily available, off-the-shelf parts with no customization necessary. For the demo unit though, the project hasn’t made it quite that far yet.  For this prototype, the box consisted of a foldable solar panel array, that was hooked up to a charge controller, which then fed a battery pack. The battery pack was run over to an inverter, so that we could power multiple standard devices. The first device to be powered was a 96Boards Dragonboard, that had a small LCD attached for graphical output, and had a 4G LTE cellular mezzanine which provided data to the Dragonboard.  This, as long as there is cell service, the Dragonboard has connectivity to the internet!  At that point, we had effectively built a solar powered, self sustaining compute workstation that could connect to the internet nearly anywhere!

However, because we were just doing a proof of concept, we thought it would be fun to go even one step further!  Next, we setup sharing on the Dragonboard’s cellular connection, and ran an ethernet cable out from the Dragonboard over to a Raspberry Pi 3 Compute Module.  This Pi was running a service from Microsoft called Azure IoT Edge, which is a product that allows you to remotely push containers and code to an IoT device, or receive data and telemetry back from a device out in the wild.  Thus, as long as there is adequate sunlight (or another renewable source of power) and cell coverage, the box can be remotely monitored and even updated from anywhere.  Or, thanks to its LCD and USB keyboard, it can be used as a workstation in places where infrastructure is lacking.

Another potential use case for the platform could be as an environmental monitoring solution. When equipped with a gyroscope, the box could detect movements from events such as a rock slide, avalanche, mud slide, volcanic activity, etc. Any anomoly can be reported back to the central servers immediately for analysis.

When equipped with a camera, the box could also visually monitor the environment, and detect changes in imagery such as a smoke plume for early forest fire detection, wildlife movement, vehicles approaching locations where there should not be any, or more.

Finally, because of the device’s Raspberry Pi Compute Module carrier board, the box has the ability to run targeted workloads of its own, for extreme edge computing. The workloads can be updated, changed, and monitored remotely, again due to the Dragonboard’s cellular connectivity to the Microsoft Azure IoT Edge platform.

ArmTechCon was a big success, and it’s incredible what can be built using Arm technology.  Be sure to check back for status updates as the solar compute box undergoes future development and iterations!

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Where to Buy an Arm Server

Being Arm enthusiast’s and deeply embedded in the Arm Server ecosystem, one of the questions we get asked often is,

“Where can I buy an Arm Server?”

In the past, it was difficult to actually find Arm Server hardware available to individual end-users. Not long ago, the only way to gain access to Arm Servers was to have NDA’s with major OEM’s or having the right connections to get engineering-sample hardware. However, over the course of the past 2 to 3 years, more providers have entered the market and hardware is now readily available to consumers. Here are some of the easiest ways to buy an Arm Server, although this list is not exhaustive. These servers all have great performance, relatively low costs, and are well supported.

First and foremost, the AMD Opteron A1100 may not be a commercial success, but it is a fantastic Arm Server platform that is supported upstream and runs perfect out-of-the-box. The SoftIron OverDrive 1000 comes in a small desktop style case, but the OverDrive 3000 series comes in a 1U chassis ready for rackmount installation. It has a BMC, 10 GBE ethernet, 14 SATA ports (!), and 2 PCIe slots. A standard UEFI boot process allows for easy installation of CentOS, RedHat, Debian, Ubuntu, SUSE, and any other Linux flavor that has an ARM64 build.

Next up is the Cavium ThunderX, and the newly released ThunderX2. These chips are sold in servers from several vendors, which come in various shapes and sizes. Some of the examples we’ve found include the System76 Starling, the Avantek R-series in both 1U and 2U sizes, and the Gigabyte Arm offering that closely match Avantek’s specs. There are High Density designs, single processor and dual processor options, and 10 GBE as well as SFP options available.

Finally, there is the Qualcomm Centriq 2400 CPU, with it’s powerful “Falkor” cores and robust networking options. One word of caution is that Qualcomm recently cut staffing in it’s Datacenter division, and rumors have been swirling that they are looking to exit the business. However, the CPU is featured in servers built by SolarFlare, though there is no mention of price.

One last note to make, is that we expect to see the newly formed Ampere Computing release details soon on their latest Arm Server CPU, which is based on the IP gained from Applied Micro and their X-Gene 3 SoC. We will be sure to post an article containing info on that CPU once it’s released.

Be sure to check back often for all things Arm Server related!

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ARM Server Update, Summer 2018

Continuing our quarterly ARM Server update series, it is now Summer 2018 so it is time to review the ARM Server news and ecosystem updates from the past few months!  This blog series only covers the ARM Server highlights, but for more in-depth ARM Server news be sure to check out the Works on Arm Newsletter, delivered every Friday by Ed Vielmetti!

Looking at our recent blog posts, the most important headline seems to be the rumored exit from the business by Qualcomm.  Although, at the moment, this has not been confirmed, if true it would be a major setback for ARM Servers in the datacenter.  The Qualcomm Centriq had been shown to be very effective by CloudFlare for their distributed caching workload, and had been shown by Microsoft to be running a portion of the Azure workload as well.

However, just as Qualcomm is rumored to be exiting, Cavium has released the new ThunderX2 to general availability, and several new designs have now been shown and are listed for sale.  The ThunderX2 processor is a 32-core design that can directly compete with Xeons, and provides all of the platform features that a hyperscaler would expect.

Finally, in software news, Ubuntu has released it’s latest 18.04 Bionic Beaver release, which is an LTS version, thus offering 5 years of support.  As in the past, there is an ARM64 version of Ubuntu, which should technically work on any UEFI standard ARM Server.  Examples include Ampere X-Gene servers, Cavium ThunderX servers, Qualcomm, Huawei, HP Moonshot, and AMD Seattle servers.

As always, make sure to check back for more ARM Server and Datacenter industry news, or follow us on Twitter for daily updates on all things ARM, IoT, single board computers, edge computing, and more!

 

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Prototype Raspberry Pi Cluster Board

The first samples of the miniNodes Raspberry Pi Cluster Board have arrived, and testing can now begin!

Thanks to the very gracious Arm Innovator Program, miniNodes was able to design and build this board with the help of Gumstix!  The design includes 5 Raspberry Pi Compute Module slots, an integrated Ethernet Switch, and power delivered to each node via the PCB.  All that is required are the Raspberry Pi CoM’s, and a single power supply to run the whole cluster.

We are in the process of validating the hardware, and ensuring proper functionality, but hope to launch the board soon!

mininodes-raspberry-pi-cluster-board

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Report: Qualcomm Looking to Exit ARM Server Processor Business

Recently, Bloomberg ran an article claiming that Qualcomm was seeking to close down or find a buyer for it’s ARM Server processor, the Centriq.  While the report has not been publicly confirmed by the company, if true, this would be welcome news to Cavium who just launched their ThunderX2 ARM Server processor.  Ampere could also benefit from this, as they are currently preparing to launch an updated X-Gene ARM Server processor based on the Applied Micro deisgn.

It would be a loss for the ARM Server ecosystem as a whole though, as the Centriq was well received in the press and reviews showed that the chip offered superior performance, lower power consumption, and excellent network throughput.

Here’s hoping this report is false!

 

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miniNodes ARM Innovators Program Interview

The full Arm Innovators Program interview is now posted, and we are proud to be highlighted by Arm for our innovations in the Arm Server ecosystem!

As you can see, we are currently prototyping a Raspberry Pi Cluster PCB that will hold 5 Raspberry Pi Computer on Module (CoM) boards, with a power input and ethernet switch built in.

This Raspberry Pi Cluster Board will allow the Docker, Kubernetes, OpenFasS, Minio, and other cluster projects to easily develop, test, and build their software in a cheap and convenient way, with no cabling mess.  Home automation, IoT, and hardware hacking are other potential uses for the board.

We’re still a few weeks away from launching, but keep watching this space as we will be sure to make an announcement as soon as it is ready!

mininodes-arm-innovator

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Report: Qualcomm Centriq TCO beats Intel

Tirias Research recently released a new Report detailing the Qualcomm Centriq Total Cost of Ownership versus an Intel Xeon x86 platform on a common workload, and the Qualcomm came out far ahead.  The full article is located here:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/tiriasresearch/2018/02/20/qdt-improved-server-tco/#3bbff2bc4675  The relevant piece is this:

Our TCO analysis demonstrated that using only one Qualcomm Centriq 2452 SoC per server chassis, a 12kW rack full of 36 46-core SoCs should show slightly better performance than a rack full of Intel Xeon Silver 4110 dual-socket server chassis, at only 51% of the power consumption. That’s similar performance with about half the power consumption.

 

Using two Qualcomm Centriq 2452 SoCs per server chassis in a 12kW rack should yield a little over double the performance of the dual-socket Intel Xeon Silver 4110 servers at 88% of the power consumption. A key factor is that only 35 of the Intel Xeon Silver 4110 systems can fit within the 12kW rack power budget. In this scenario, Qualcomm Centriq 2400 offers double the performance with less power consumption.

So, a single socket Centriq is essentially using half as much power for the exact same performance and workload, translating in to real savings.  And, there is room for performance improvement as well, by moving up to a dual socket design.  In that scenario, doubling the performance of the Xeon rack still results in a 12% power budget savings.  Double the performance and still drawing less power per rack, Qualcomm’s going to be challenging Intel’s dominance in the datacenter.

 

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Fedora IoT Edition Approved

The Fedora Council has authorized a new Fedora Edition (as opposed to a Spin), dedicated to IoT devices and functionality!  Fedora ARM developer Peter Robinson is heading up the effort, congratulations to him!  He has information available on his blog located here:  https://nullr0ute.com/2018/03/fedora-iot-edition-is-go/, and there is also an official Ticket capturing the Approval located here:  https://pagure.io/Fedora-Council/tickets/issue/193

The Wiki is just getting built out now, so there is not a whole of information on it quite yet, but keep checking back as it takes shape:  https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Objectives/Fedora_IoT