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ARM servers need a hand in middleware support

Posted: 03 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM? server? compiler?

Relatively power-efficient ARM-based SoCs are gaining popularity in server systems, a domain ruled by Intel's muscular x86 processors. Users and vendors of ARM-based servers, however, require better middleware support, including compilers for scripting languages.

Multiple chip vendors showed ARM servers up and running a variety of Linux-based operating systems and applications at the annual ARM Tech Con. One vendor showed its ARM SoCs beating Intel servers in a live test. However, users said code for ARM-based systems has plenty of room for optimisations that promise better performance.

"You can get stuff compiled and running, but what you can't do is get awesome code out of compiler chainwe have to work really hard on that," said one researcher from Sandia National Labs testing Hewlett-Packard's Proliant m400 system announced earlier this week that uses the 64bit X-Gene 1 SoC from Applied Micro.

"Enterprise users will be surprised how much code they can get up and running," said the researcher who preferred not to be named. "We can hand tune the code for tens of per cent faster performance, so we know there's much more head room," he said.

Sandia also found the performance of the ARM systems scale better than x86 servers on their scientific applications (see below). They attributed the finding to the ARM SoCs being more balanced in memory bandwidth, I/O and processor performance. Intel's chips typically have much greater processor performance than the ARM SoCs, but the lack of memory bandwidth and I/O means the maximum performance of the Intel chips cannot be achieved or sustained.

ARM servers

Sandia showed results of ARM servers showing better performance scaling than Intel servers on some of its scientific applications.

"It's like having a ten-room house but you can only afford to heat and live in four or five of the rooms," said another Sandia researcher referring to the Intel chips. With the ARM systems "you can use all ten rooms," he said.

Sandia runs huge clusters of Intel-based servers today as part of its mission to support the government nuclear stockpile. It has been testing since March HP's ARM-based system, and was the first to receive a production version of a chassis packing 48 X-Gene processors. Sandia routinely tests all new server architectures.

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