Will x86 Have a Home in the Cloud?

November 10, 2010 Off By Hoofer
Grazed from IT Business Edge.  Author: Arthur Cole.

Is it possible that the cloud is poised to remake the entire computing industry in a much more fundamental way than previously imagined? Could the very dominance of x86 architecture be in jeopardy as a new era of Web-based, low-power computing dawns?

It’s not as far-fetched as it seems. As we pointed out last month, ARM processors are quickly making their way into server architectures, extending their control of cellular and mobile applications into enterprise settings. And if much of the computing horsepower shifts from on-site data centers to remote cloud facilities as many experts predict, the need for heavyweight processors on the user end is likely to diminish. Going forward, enterprise gear will likely be driven by a need for energy efficiency and Web-centric communication.

Already, we’re seeing a number of vendors tailor their product offerings to meet this changing environment. Marvell recently unveiled the Armada XP processor, a quad-core ARM device aimed at media servers and high-speed networking. The unit clocks in at 1.6 GHz and delivers 16,600 MIPS within a 10-watt power envelope. It also provides up to 16 high-speed SERDES lanes that can be configured for PCIe, SATA, SGMII and QSGMII.

Dell is also taking a hard look at the ARM for its PowerEdge server and PowerEdge-C cloud platform, according to The Register. Paul Prince, CTO of the company’s Enterprise Products Group, says he is watching the development of platforms like the Cortex-A9 and -A15 to see how well they scale up to multicore designs and whether they gain enough support for virtualization and large-memory applications.

PC manufacturers like Inventec, Acer and HP are said to be investing heavily in ARM technology for their new generations of Google Chrome OS notebooks. The idea is that the device will only need enough horsepower to run an ultra-thin client on top of the Chrome browser – just enough to tap into the universe of services and applications on the cloud.

Of course, growing interest in a new platform does not equal market acceptance. There could be numerous ways in which ARMs, or the cloud itself, may prove to be not as beneficial to the enterprise as they appear. But if expectations are correct and we are on the verge of a mass re-engineering of enterprise platforms, don’t be surprised if new lower-cost, lower-power solutions find their way into some very entrenched hardware settings.