ARM has announced a new open specification for building servers based on the ARM architecture, which it created with the help of Canonical, Citrix, Linaro, Microsoft, Red Hat, SUSE, Dell and HP.
The channel has moved another step closer to having ARM-based server rooms a major presence in the enterprise. On Jan. 28, ARM—together with a slew of collaborators including Canonical, Citrix (CTXS), Linaro, Microsoft (MSFT), Red Hat (RHT), SUSE, Dell and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)—announced the new Server Base System Architecture (SBSA) specification for deploying servers based on the ARMv8-A 64-bit processor.
This news doesn't mean ARM-based servers for the enterprise are saturating the market yet. But by defining open standards on which software and hardware partners can build server platforms running on ARM, the specification removes a major hurdle to bringing the power of ARM chips—which already have a huge presence in mobile and embedded solutions, and which promise better portability and power efficiency in many settings than the x86-based hardware that (along with a few specialized architectures) has traditionally dominated data centers—to the server room.
That the specification results from collaboration between ARM and so many leading channel vendors is a sign that it will prove enduring. And many of those vendors appear eager to see the ARM architecture reinvigorate the data center market.
For instance, Christian Reis, VP of Hyperscale Computing at Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, said in a statement that "ARM-based servers have the potential to transform the data center ecosystem back into a dynamic, innovative market. We see the SBSA effort removing barriers to adoption by providing a framework for system implementation that any technology supplier can easily understand and follow."
The celebration of the open nature of the SBSA specification is natural for companies such as Canonical, Linaro, Red Hat and SUSE, all of which are heavily invested in open source technology and solutions. Facebook's Open Compute Project has chimed in as well, declaring support for open standards that it believes "will help speed adoption of ARM in the data center by providing consumers and software developers with the consistency and predictability they require, and by helping increase the pace of innovation in ARM technologies by eliminating gratuitous differentiation in areas like device enumeration and boot process," according to a statement.
If views like these are any indication, the data center of the future will be two things: First, open, in terms of hardware and software standards; and second, not as tightly bound to the x86 hardware realm as servers have been for the last several decades.