Intent on making significant inroads into the server market now dominated by Intel Corp., a few details have just emerged about ARM Ltd. plans for a new Server Base System Architecture Specification.
Revealed just as is 64-bit server designs based on its V8Intellectual Property have begun sampling, the intent of the new spec seems to be an effort at imposing some sort of standardization on ARM licensees who are considering such a move.
Where Intel Corp. builds its own processors and thus guarantee that software that is designed to operate on one server design will work on others, ARM cannot now provide similar interoperatility because while the designs of its liscencees use the same base architecture, their hardware SoCs are basically variations on a theme.
While similar in most respects, software developed for one ARM implementation will not necessarily work on another. For example, two companies who have started development using ARM's V8 architecture – Applied Micro and Cavium, but customized to their own system requirements.
The emergence of such a spec seems to be an effort to allow ARM to compete on a more level playing field with Intel Corp., but forging a path to software interoperability for server apps on ARM.
Little is known as yet about the new spec except that it works at multiple levels and defines the minimum mandatory hardware at each level. All optional hardware used during boot conforms to appropriate industry standards, which will allow the OS to support optional boot devices and eliminate the need for custom kernels.
This will also allow developers to dynamically enumerate the platform and load appropriate modules/drivers as needed.ARM has brought together software companies, OEMs, and SoCs in the pursuit of this common standard, and is only the first of many industry standards that ARM Ltd. it is seeing to work out with its rather unruly set of liscencees.
But it may already be too late.
Applied Micro is already sampling its 64-bit X-Gene SoC to Dell and Red Hat amongst others. And AMD is planning to sample its its Seattle SoC in the first half of the year and going into production in the second half.
To read more on industry speculation about the new spec and its impact on the market, go to “ARM Raises Server Spec.”