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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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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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ARM Server Update, Spring 2017

As always, much has changed in the ARM Server world since our last post!  Here are the highlights of what’s going on in the Linux on ARM Server community:

First and foremost, a huge announcement from Microsoft came at the 2017 Open Compute Project (OCP) U.S. Summit last month.  Microsoft stated they can utilize ARM Servers to power over 50% of their Cloud Workload, and demonstrated two designs, one based on the Cavium ThunderX2, and one based on the Qualcomm Centriq 2400.  They even showed an internal build of Windows Server running on the Qualcomm.

Next, 96Boards showed off all the latest projects and boards they have been working on at Linaro Connect, from IoT to the powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SBC.

Finally, on the Raspberry Pi front, a new Raspberry Pi Zero was released with WiFi built-in.  This will allow the Raspberry Pi Zero to be more easily adapted to IoT applications, without the need for a USB Wi-Fi adapter or USB ethernet adapter that was previously required.  This simpler solution addresses one of the biggest complaints about the Pi Zero.

 

 

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Qualcomm Centriq 2400 ARM Server Processor

Qualcomm has announced their new ARM Server processor, called the Centriq 2400, which is designed for high efficiency processing and is capable of handling datacenter workloads.  While Cavium, AMD, and Applied Micro all have ARM Server processors, Qualcomm’s new processor is the first to be built on a 10-nanometer manufacturing process.  It will be able to handle cloud software stacks now that the software ecosystem has matured, and should be able to compete with Xeon offerings as the hyperscalers like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, and China Mobile build out next generation datacenters.

Qualcomm has lots of experience of course developing, manufacturing, and selling ARM processors via their Snapdragon line of cell phone chips, so they do have an edge on the competition as vendors like Cavium and Applied Micro don’t have the same experience and relationships already built.  Additionally, Qualcomm can leverage some synergies with the Snapdragon 820 and 835, albeit they definitely have their differences.

With another vendor now entering the ARM Server marketplace (and a major one at that), the future is looking bright for ARM gaining more traction and making inroads in the datacenter.

 

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ARM Server Linux Update, March 2016

It has been a few months since our last ARM Server update, and as usual, a lot has changed in just a short time!

The biggest and most important news is the launch of the Raspberry Pi 3, freshly upgraded to a quad-core 64-bit ARM processor from Broadcom, whereas all previous Raspberry Pi’s have been based on 32-bit processors. With 8 million units sold, the Raspberry Pi is by far the most popular ARM single board computer, so the move to a 64-bit processor will potentially add millions of units to the 64-bit ARM ecosystem.

In January, the AMD Opteron A1100 officially launched, which is also a 64-bit model. It is available in 3 different SKU’s with varying core count and speeds, and AMD is arguably the biggest name to launch an ARM Server SOC thus far.

The LeMaker Cello is a new board based on the 96Boards Enterprise Edition specification, utilizing one of the AMD Opteron processors. It has gigabit ethernet, DDR3 memory, SATA, and USB 3.0, so connectivity and data throughput should be excellent.

Finally, as part of the latest 96Boards Reference Software Platform, both Debian and CentOS are now supported for install, and a single 4.4 Kernel run the DragonBoard, HiKey, and HuskyBoard.

So there you have it. Just a few short months, and lots of change has happened in the ARM Server ecosystem (as usual)!

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miniNodes.com Launches First Hosted 64-Bit ARM Server

Phoenix, AZ — Cloud hosting provider miniNodes.com, a pioneer in the ARM server hosting industry, is proud to announce the immediate availability of the world’s first hosted 64-bit ARM server. The new 64-bit ARM miniNode is the first publicly available hosted Linux server to use a processor based on the ARMv8 architecture.

While the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit CPU’s is already underway in the smartphone market, the server market has been slower to evolve. This has been due to the limited availability and prohibitively expensive early samples of 64-bit ARM hardware. However, the new 64-bit ARM miniNode eliminates the barriers to entry and dramatically reduces the cost for companies to begin testing software, porting applications, and building new technologies that leverage the benefits of the ARMv8 architecture. The 64-bit ARM miniNode is based on the HiSilicon Kirin 6220 processor, which has 8 ARM Cortex-A53 cores, coupled with 1gb of RAM and 20gb of storage. Linux support includes Debian 8.0 “Jessie” at launch, with other Linux distributions expected to become available in the future.

Although ARM processors already power the vast majority of smartphones, tablets, and media players, as well as some laptops, the biggest market segment poised for growth is the server and datacenter industry. ARM’s low power, high efficiency CPU designs can result in significant energy savings for web-scale datacenter operators, where energy and cooling are the largest costs. Companies can make sure their applications and code are ready to take advantage of these next-generation datacenters by using the new miniNode 64-bit ARM server to achieve compatibility today.

More information about the miniNode 64-bit ARM server can be found on our website, https://www.mininodes.com/product/64-bit-arm-mininode/

More information on ARM Holdings can be located on their website, http://www.arm.com

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Installing Ubuntu Server 14.04 on the ARM Allwinner A80 Optimusboard or pcDuino8 Arches

Previously in this series, we investigated building and running a minimal linux server on the Allwinner A80 Optimusboard.  While that was a great exercise in learning about the A80 and its SDK, the output of that work was not all that useful.  Additionally, we were still missing major hardware components such as ethernet, wi-fi, and NAND.  More recently, the pcDuino team released both a Fedora and a Lubuntu beta image for the pcDuino8 board (recently renamed Arches).  Their Lubuntu build is made up of two pieces: a kernel image and a rootfs image.  The kernel image is 3.4.39, and it simply boots the board and then points over to the rootfs.  However, they utilized an older Lubuntu 12.10 image, which also inherently provides the LXDE desktop, neither of which is optimal when looking to deploy a server.

To build an ideal microserver, we really needed a bare minimum Ubuntu LTS system.  Thus, we kept the 3.4.39 kernel they provided, but we swapped in a freshly built Ubuntu 14.04 LTS file system created by mk-sbuild.  There is no window manager, no video acceleration, and no packages above and beyond what is needed to bring up the system.  It is up to the user to install whatever software they want, whether that is a LAMP stack, nodejs, ruby, FTP, DNS, Gnome, VNC, etc, etc.

Here is how to make use of this image:

First and foremost, you’ll need to download 3 files that we are going to use.  One file will be used by LiveSuit, and the other 2 files we are going to place on a microSD card.  Here are our downloads:

After they are finished downloading, we need to uncompress the ubuntu-trusty-arm-mininodes-20141227.img.gz image file.

gzip -d ubuntu-trusty-arm-mininodes-20141227.img.gz

Next, copy update.sh and ubuntu-trusty-arm-mininodes-20141227.img to a microSD card and then set it aside, we’re going to need it later in the process.

Now, we are ready to start.  First, load LiveSuit and select the kernel file so that it is ready to format / flash when the board is powered up.

install-ubuntu-on-allwinner-a80-optimusboard-1

Next, we need to connect the serial cable to the Optimusboard, open up a screen session (or use Putty if on Windows), and apply power.  Quickly press any key to interrupt its boot process and drop to the u-boot shell.  Type ‘efex’ (without the quotes) and press Enter.

install-ubuntu-on-allwinner-a80-optimusboard-2

LiveSuit will now find the board, and flash the kernel to the NAND (/dev/nanda to be exact).  It only takes a moment, because we are simply flashing the kernel at this point.

install-ubuntu-on-allwinner-a80-optimusboard-3

Once finished, the Optimusboard will reboot itself, and attempt to boot, but it fail with an error of “No valid rootfs found”.  Now it is time for the micro SD card.

install-ubuntu-on-allwinner-a80-optimusboard-4

Place the micro SD card in the slot, and the board will recognize that it contains an update.sh file.  It will immediately begin copying the contents of ubuntu-trusty-arm-mininodes-20141227.img to the NAND (/dev/nandd).

install-ubuntu-on-allwinner-a80-optimusboard-5

After approximately 5 minutes it will finish copying the data, and we can safely remove the SD card.

install-ubuntu-on-allwinner-a80-optimusboard-6

Once it’s removed, press the Reset button on the Optimusboard, and we should now boot up cleanly, and after a moment arrive at an Ubuntu login prompt.  The default username / password combo is ubuntu / ubuntu.

The build script only gets us to a minimal working state, so, let’s finish bringing the system all the way up and prepare it for use.  First, lets expand the filesystem to use all of the available space on the NAND (roughly 8gb):

resize2fs /dev/nandd

Then to verify the results:

df -h

Obviously we’ll want to change the passwords, for security purposes:

passwd

su root

passwd

Finally, lets bring up the ethernet port and grab a DHCP ip address, so we can access the internet.

ifconfig eth0 up

dhclient eth0

If all goes according to plan, you should now have a minimal Ubuntu 14.04 LTS ARMv7 install running on your Allwinner A80 Optimusboard! From here, you can customize the system to best suit your needs!

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Hosted Raspberry Pi Servers Now Available on miniNodes.com

miniNodes is proud to announce it is the first provider in North America to offer hosted Raspberry Pi servers.  Although they are small in size, Raspberry Pi Model B+ servers are able to perform many of the same functions and roles larger servers typically fulfill.  Raspberry Pi servers can host websites, email, databases, and DNS, can be used for learning programming languages like Python, Ruby, NodeJS, Bash scripting, and Linux administration, and can even be used as Minecraft servers.

Our hosted Raspberry Pi servers come in either 16gb or 32gb sizes, combined of course with the Pi’s ARM Cortex processor and 512mb of RAM.  Each node has a static IP Address, and SSH access.

For more details or to order, see https://www.mininodes.com/product/raspberry-pi-mininode/

 

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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.

 

Customization

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 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.

 

Efficiency

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

Source: http://www.cpu-world.com/Price_Compare/Desktop_CPU_prices_(latest).html

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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Ubuntu Server 14.04 LTS Now Available on miniNodes.com

miniNodes.com is proud to announce that it is the first hosting solutions provider to offer a leased Ubuntu 14.04 LTS ARM Server. By making available Ubuntu Core 14.04 LTS Linux running on Allwinner Technologies’ ARM processors, miniNodes.com is continuing to innovate and expand the market for ARM in the server industry.

Ubuntu 14.04 is the latest version of Ubuntu, and its 5 years of Long Term Support make it a popular choice for IT administrators looking for security and stability. Ubuntu is an innovative operating system that focuses on cloud and OpenStack deployment, has expansive documentation, a large and engaged community of supporters, and a consistent update schedule.

ARM processors offer notable advantages over traditional platforms, such as superior energy efficiency and lower cost of purchase and operations. Additionally, ARM processors power the vast majority of tablets and smartphones around the world. Expanding to the datacenter creates synergies and shared components that ease software development for the cloud.

With this product release, miniNodes has added to it’s lead in the hosted ARM Server industry. The hosted Ubuntu ARM Server is unique in the marketplace, and demonstrates miniNodes.com’s commitment and leadership to the microserver, ARM Server, and low-power cloud computing ecosystem.

More information on Ubuntu can be located on their website, http://www.ubuntu.com

More information on ARM Holdings can be located on their website, http://www.arm.com

More information on Allwinner Technology Co. can be located on their website, http://www.allwinnertech.com