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Arm Server Solutions: Using Microservers for Your IT Workload


The challenges faced by IT departments are unique. IT is typically viewed as a cost center, has low visibility and few tangible products, and yet plays a critical role in today’s business environment. As IT departments routinely have to operate on minimal budgets and with scarce resources, maximizing the return on investment and making the most of every computing dollar (and CPU cycle) is critical.



One way that IT departments can cut costs on their cloud and hosted server spending is by switching to microservers. Microservers are an emerging technology, based on the premise that today’s IT workloads are different from those of the past. More transactional computing is taking place, and an emphasis is placed on horizontal scalability and data replication instead of single node performance. Additionally, segmentation of workloads by specific use cases can make better use of resources in a customized microserver environment, as opposed to generic one-size-fits-all general purpose servers.

Arm servers and micro server platforms can be optimized for delivering IT services such as:

Networking – Routing and transport, packet shaping / forwarding, firewalls.
Databases – MySQL, PostgreSQL, and NoSQL databases such as mongoDB, Redis, and Cassandra
Web ServersApache, nginx
Caching – CDN servers and caching dynamic content in flat format at the edge to alleviate workload on backend servers.
Load Balancers – Dedicated nodes to prioritize and intelligently allocate requests to servers.
Reporting – Logging, analysis, business intelligence, and reporting services.
Big Data – Transactional and batch processing of data for machine learning or Hadoop.
Communications and APIs – Standard services like email and IM, emerging communication technologies like RabbitMQ, and API feeds back to other services and devices.

In the past, all of these services would have to be delivered by a single type of commodity server, which generally could not be effectively optimized for each different workload. This resulted in overspending and wasted resources. Arm servers and their software stack can easily be tailored to each independent workload, ensuring the most efficient delivery of these common IT services.



Let’s look closer at the efficiency and advantages offered by ARM microservers:

Flexibility – As already mentioned, ARM servers are flexible in their hardware platform design, varying from single-core units with 256mb of RAM and 100mb ethernet all the way to 48-core designs with 40gbE uplinks.

Size – As the name implies, micro servers are small. Some are the size of a credit card, others range up the size of a phonebook. Either way, they are much smaller than the traditional 1U, 2U, and 4U rackmount chassis.

Power Consumption – Here again, the numbers can vary, but they range from 2 to 3 watts up to about 40 watts in the more powerful configurations. However, this is on the order of 20x more efficient than a traditional server which incorporates a 500 to 1000 watt power supply.

Cost – Prices can vary of course, but micro servers can cost anywhere from $50, to a few hundred dollars, up to $3,000 depending again on the configuration and capability. A standard server can cost anywhere from $500 to $10,000, so an ARM server could be 10x to 20x more cost effective as well.

Scalability – This is another area where ARM servers excel. Traditionally, as more compute power was needed, a faster processor and more memory was the answer. As the upper end of the processing power spectrum is reached, costs grow exponentially. Small, marginal gains in processor speed incur a steep increase in cost. To demonstrate this concept, here is a current price list for Intel Core i7 processors, illustrating this phenomenon.

Core i7-4790S – $303
3.2GHz / 4 cores

Core i7-4930K – $583
3.4GHz / 6 cores

Core i7-4960X – $999
3.6GHz / 6 cores


In the example above, a marginal improvement from 3.4ghz to 3.6ghz nearly doubles the cost of the processor, but does not effectively double the performance or compute capacity. The same effect is observed in the price of memory, where cost vs. capacity follows a similar exponential curve. A superior method of addressing capacity issues is thus to scale horizontally and add additional nodes to handle increased workload, and balance the computational requests across the newly formed cluster of servers. This is the premise that Hadoop and mongoDB are founded upon, as well as many other emerging technologies like Cassandra, Varnish caching, and Docker.


Developing a New Ecosystem

While there are clearly significant advantages, microserver and ARM servers have a bit more maturing to do in the marketplace and ecosystem before they can capture sizable market share. The ecosystem can be defined as follows, per the supply chain:

Chip vendors, such as AMD, Allwinner, Freescale, Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek, Rockchip, etc. who produce CPU’s based on ARM cores and IP. Currently, the bulk of chips produced are 32-bit processors, whereas business and micro servers will need 64-bit support. ARM has A53 and A57 64-bit cores sampling and in early adopter products, but volume production of these cores and processors needs to ramp up.

Hardware integrators like HardKernel, Wandboard, Olimex, pcDuino, CubieTech, Radxa, Advantech, and others need to integrate those 64-bit cores into custom PCB designs.

Software and Operating Systems needs to mature and fully support 64-bit ARMv8 processors. Ubuntu and Fedora are already there, but RedHat, CentOS, and CoreOS have work to do still.

Datacenters that host next generation microserver and hosted ARM servers need to come online and provide capacity for mass deployment of nodes to build both public and private clouds.

These ecosystem components will take time to build out and scale. These initiatives need to be well planned, repeatable, and cost effective to ensure that ARM servers can gain a foothold in the marketplace, and then build momentum from there based on competitive advantages and disruptive forces. These components won’t appear overnight, but it won’t be long until the microserver takes significant market share aware from traditional, generic servers.

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Building an ARM Server Cluster

Although we’re still fine tuning our multi-node ARM server platform, we thought it might be interesting to show off the test environment we use to develop with.  Here is what our sandbox looks like.  If you have any questions, feel free to add them to the comments below!


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Advantages of ARM Servers

People often ask about the advantages of ARM Servers compared to x86 platforms, so we thought we’d outline a few of the key advantages offered by ARM dedicated microservers.  If you think we missed any, feel free to add your input to the comments section below!


ARM Advantage #1:  Cost

Let’s assume you are in the market for a modest dedicated server to host your website, email, or custom services.  A popular provider is HostGator, who offers an entry level server for $174 per month.  It is a dual-core Intel 2.3ghz processor, has 4gb of RAM, CentOS Linux, and 2 IP Addresses.  It will do the job.

However, a miniNode ARM microserver will also do the job.  A dual-core 1ghz ARM processor, 1gb of RAM, and Ubuntu Linux are not quite equal, but for $14 per month you could get 2 of them, and separate the Web and Database servers… most likely achieving similar performance for a fraction of the price.

Also, as ARM continues to make inroads in the datacenter, these specs will quickly catch up to the x86 platforms.


ARM Advantage #2:  Power

Let’s continue using that HostGator server as a baseline.  While they don’t disclose the exact thermal specifications of that server, it would be surprising if it had anything less than a 250 to 300 watt power supply driving it.  ARM servers, on the other hand, trace their ancestry to smartphones and tablets, and therefore have a strong focus on efficiency and minimal power consumption.   ARM processors and platforms typically operate within a 1 to 15 watt envelope, with miniNodes drawing right around 5 watts under load.  At datacenter scale, these power savings are enormous.


ARM Advantage #3:  Ubiquity

ARM has shipped 50 billion chips, and the Internet of Things, wearables, and smart devices will bring about the next 50 billion in short order.  Servers based on ARM designs are able to seamlessly operate, communicate, and interact with those devices.  Android, Linux, and Windows RT all run on ARM.

Let’s return to the HostGator example one last time.  They advertise “Apache Web Server, MySQL, PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby (on Rails), FFMpeg Support” and “IPTables Firewall” are supported on their server.  miniNodes offer that same LAMP software stack, in addition to being an ideal platform for node.js, jQuery, MongoDB, Hadoop, and Python development.


Hopefully this helps clarify why ARM is such a disruptive technology in the datacenter and server ecosystem.  Again, we’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to add your comments!


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Low-Power Computing with ARM Servers

As any server administrator or hardware enthusiast can tell you, today’s servers offer unprecedented amounts of computing power, memory, and storage for the demanding applications run by big business. Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron processors with up to 16 cores, terabytes of RAM, petabytes of storage, and specially tuned GPU’s can crunch data and ensure mission critical services run 24/7 with no interruptions in service. And while this is great if you’re a Fortune 500 company with billions of dollars in revenue, what if your needs are more modest? What if you require the same technologies, software stack, access, and control that the large enterprises have, but on a smaller scale? What if, quite simply, you don’t need the raw horsepower that even basic servers offer?

miniNodes ARM Servers offer a unique and compelling alternative. miniNodes ARM Servers are bare metal servers with a more modest hardware configuration, that cost less and use less power. They run Ubuntu Server, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, and can host services, email, applications, DNS, Hadoop, Node.js, Ruby, and more. They come with the operating system already installed and configured, and they cost just a fraction of the price of a typical leased server.

Further, since they are based on the same ARM processor architecture that smartphones and tablets use, they are engineered for efficiency. Typical power loads average about 5 Watts, compared to 500 to 1000 Watts for a traditional server. So not only do you save money versus a traditional server, you are helping conserve energy and minimize the impact on the environment.

We know there are more powerful solutions out there. But, in many use cases, they are simply overkill for a company’s computing needs… We call this “Right-Sized Computing”, and we hope it better suits your needs.

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Testing Your Code and Applications on ARM Servers

With the launch of miniNodes last week, developers, programmers, students and more can now test out their code and applications on ARM Servers easily and cost effectively.  miniNodes ARM Servers are bare metal dedicated servers, running on ARM Cortex processor cores, with integrated memory and storage.  They run Ubuntu Server 13.10 (with support for Fedora 20 coming soon) and are accessible via SSH like any other standard server.

The significance of ARM processors, and the importance of ensuring code works on ARM platforms is quickly becoming crucial for business.  ARM Cortex processors power the iPhone and iPad, and the vast majority of Android phones and tablets as well.  As more and more computing shifts from the desktop computer to the mobile device, application developers need to ensure their code works on those platforms.

miniNodes can help with this transition by providing a low cost sandbox for developers to test apps, without worrying about a virtualization layer, incompatibilities, or integration efforts.

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Dedicated ARM Servers

miniNodes are microservers that can replace the functions and capabilities of a “regular” server at a fraction of the cost, while also using a fraction of the electricity required to run a normal server.  Powered by the same proven ARM Cortex chips and technology that iPhones, Androids, and tablets run on, miniNodes can host cloud services and applications, run websites, crunch big data with Hadoop, create webserver farms, and more.

miniNodes is launching with 2 flavors to choose from:

ARM Cortex A8 processor
Dual Core @ 1ghz
1gb RAM
250gb Hard Drive

ARM Cortex A9 processor
4 Cores @ 1ghz
2gb RAM
250gb Hard Drive