Open Source software is a good barometer by which to measure the ‘interest’ or adoption rate of some chip architectures. The availability of a Xen Hypervisor for the ARM15 is a good sign that some folks have development boards on which to compile the software for the virtualization software (Xen). Considering this then, hopefully more software support for the new ARM15 will spur some testing and development work amongst the big datacenter providers who are looking to save energy costs long term by using lower power ARM cpus (MORE)
You can bet that if ARM servers suddenly look like they will be taking off that Red Hat and Canonical will kick in some help and move these Xen and KVM projects along. Server maker HP, which has launched the “Redstone” experimental server line using Calxedas new quad-core EnergyCore ARM chips, might also help out. Dell has been playing around with ARM servers, too, and might help with the hypervisor efforts as well.
This is an interesting note, some open source Hypervisor projects are popping up now that the ARM Cortex A15 has been announced and some manufacturers are doling out development boards. What it means longer term is hard to say other than it will potentially be a boon to manufacturers using the ARM15 in massively parallel boxes like Calxeda. Or who are trying to ‘roll their own’ ARM based server farms and want to have the flexibility of virtual machines running under a hypervisor environment. However, the argument remains, “Why use virtual servers on massively parallel cpu architectures when a 1:1 cpu core to app ratio is more often preferred?”
However, I would say old habits of application and hardware consolidation die hard and virtualization is going to be expected because that’s what ‘everyone’ does in their data centers these days. So knowing that a hypervisor is available will help foster some more hardware sales of what will most likely be a niche products for very specific workloads (ie. Calxeda, Qanta SM-2, SeaMicro). And who knows maybe this will foster more manufacturers or even giant data center owners (like Apple, Facebook and Google) to attempt experiments of rolling their own ARM15 environments knowing there’s a ready made hypervisor out there that they can compile on the new ARM chip.
However, I think all eyes are really still going to be on the next generation ARM version 8 with the full 64bit memory and instruction set. Toolsets nowadays are developed in house by a lot of the datacenters and the dominant instruction set is Intel x64 (IA64) which means the migration to 64bits has already happened. Going back to 32bits just to gain the advantage of the lower power ARM architecture is far to costly for most. Whereas porting from IA64 to 64bit ARM architecture is something more datacenters might be willing to do if the potential cost/benefit ratio is high enough to cross-compile and debug. So legacy management software toolsets are really going to drive a lot of testing and adoption decisions by data centers looking at their workloads and seeing if ARM cpus fit their longer term goals of saving money by using less power.
Like during the Cold War, there’s always a technology arms race going on in the background. This arms race literally is between licensees of ARM Holdings Inc. ARM cpu architecture. Samsung vs. Apple and now Samsung is starting up work using the latest ARM Cortex A15 cpu. While there are some interesting new features available within the A15 Samsung appears to be aiming straight at the performance high end. Read On:
Samsung also previewed a 2 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 application processor, the Exynos 5250, also designed on its 32-nm process. The company said that the processor is twice as fast as a 1.5 GHz A9 design without having to jump to a quad-core layout.
More news on the release dates and the details off Samsung’s version of the ARM Cortex A15 cpu for mobile devices. Samsung is helping ramp up performance by shrinking the design rule down to 32nm, and in the A15 cpu dropping two out of the four possible cores. This choice is to make room for the integrated graphics processor. It’s a deluxe system on a chip that will no doubt give any A9 equipped tablet a run for its money. Indications at this point by Samsung are that the A15 will be a tablet only cpu and not adapted to smartphone use.
Early in the Fall there were some indications that the memory addressing of the Cortex A15 would be enhanced to allow larger memories (greater than 4GBytes) to be added to devices. As it is now memory addressing isn’t a big issue as memory extensions (up to 40bits Large Physical Address Extensions-LPAE) are allowed under the current generation Cortex A9. However the Instructions are still the same 32 bit Instruction Set longtime users of the ARM architecture are familiar with, and as always are backward compatible with previous generation software. It would appear that the biggest advantage to moving to Cortex A15 would be the potential for higher clock rates, decent power management and room to grow on the die for embedded graphics.
Apple in it’s designs using the Cortex processors has stayed one generation behind the rest of the manufacturers and used all possible knowledge and brute force to eek out a little more power savings. Witness the iPad battery life still tops most other devices on the market. By creating a fully customized Cortex A8, Apple has absolutely set the bar on power management on die, and on the motherboard as well. If Samsung decides to go the route of pure power and clock, but sacrifices two cores to get the power level down I just hope they can justify that effort with equally amazing advancements in the software that runs on this new chip. Whether it be a game or better yet a snazzy User Interface, they need to differentiate themselves and try to show off their new cpu.
While everyone was focusing on the ARM v.7 (current generatation) chip architecture, APM has been focused on the 64bit ARM v.8 which promises to herald a new era of low power with Server level features. By estimates made in the article APM has a 1 year lead on any other current licensees of ARM designs. And with any luck they will be sampling products that meet their performance targets in March of 2012 (albeit in FPGA eval form) Read On:
APM expects that even with a late 2012 launch it will have a 1 – 2 year lead on the competition. If it can get the X-Gene out on time, hitting power and clock targets both very difficult goals, the headstart will be tangible. Note that by the end of 2012 well only just begin to see the first Cortex A15 implementations. ARMv8 based competitors will likey be a full year out, at least.
It’s nice to get a confirmation of the production time lines for the Cortex A15 and the next generation ARM version 8 architecture. So don’t expect to see shipping chips, much less finished product using those chips well into 2013 or even later. As for the 4 core ARM A15, finished product will not appear until well into 2012. This means if Intel is able to scramble, they have time to further refine their Atom chips to reach the power level and Thermal Design Point (TDP) for the competing ARM version 8 architecture. What seems to be the goal is to jam in more cores per CPU socket than is currently done on the Intel architecture (up to almost 32 in on of the graphics presented with the article).
The target we are talking about is 2W per core @ 3Ghz, and it is going to be a hard, hard target to hit for any chip designer or manufacturer. One can only hope that TMSC can help APM get a finished chip out the door on it’s finest ruling chip production lines (although an update to the article indicates it will ship on 40nm to get it out the door quicker). The finer the ruling of signal lines on the chip the lower the TDP, and the higher they can run the clock rate. If ARM version 8 can accomplish their goal of 2W per cpu core @ 3 Gigahertz, I think everyone will be astounded. And if this same chip can be sampled at the earliest prototypes stages by a current ARM Server manufacturer say, like Calxeda or even SeaMicro then hopefully we can get benchmarks to show what kind of performance can be expected from the ARM v.8 architecture and instruction set. These will be interesting times.