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Arm Server Update, Summer 2019

It has been a while since our last Arm Server update, and as usual there has been a lot of changes, forward progress, and new developments in the ecosystem!

The enterprise Arm Server hardware is now mostly consolidated around the Cavium ThunderX2 and Ampere eMag products, available from Gigabyte, Avantek and Phoenics Electronics. Each can be purchased in 1U, 2U, and 4U configurations ready for the datacenter, and high performance developer workstations based on the same hardware are available, as well. Both of these solutions can be customized with additional RAM, storage, and networking, to best fit the intended workload.

Another option that exists, but is difficult to obtain in the United States, is the Huawei 1620, also known as the Kunpeng 920. These servers are also enterprise grade servers ready to be installed in a datacenter environment, typically in a 2U chassis with configurable memory and storage options. However, availability outside of Asia is limited, and new regulations may make importing them difficult.

While the Cavium, Ampere, and (potentially) Huawei servers are available as bare-metal options shipped directly to you for installation in your own datacenter, Amazon has also made significant progress over the past few months and is rapidly becoming the most popular Arm Server provider. They use their own Arm Server CPU called the Gravitron, that they use in their own proprietary AWS A1 ECS instances. This is quickly becoming the best way to deploy Arm Servers, as the entire system is in the Cloud and no hardware has to be purchased. They come in various sizes and price ranges, and experienced developers organizations who are familiar with the AWS system can simply pay by the hour for temporary workloads. For users who are less familiar with the ECS dashboard, less comfortable with the fluctuations in billing model, or prefer a fixed rate, we at miniNodes offer pre-configured Arm VPS servers in a range of sizes and prices, hosted atop the AWS platform.

Finally, the Edge of the network continues to be where a lot of innovation is occurring, and Arm Servers are a perfect fit for deplopyment as Edge Servers, due to their low power consumption, cost-effectiveness, and wide range of size and formats. The MacchiattoBin has been demonstrated running workloads in the base of windmills, the new SolidRun Clearfog ITX is promising to be a flexible solution, and the new Odroid N2 is an intersting device that has “enough” performance to satisfy a wide range of workloads that don’t need to always rely on the Cloud, and can instead deliver services and data to end-users (or other devices) faster by being located in closer proximity to where compute is needed.

As always, check back regularly for updates and Arm Server news, or follow us on Twitter where we share Arm related news on a daily basis!

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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!