ARM-based OpenStack: it’s like an army of cell phones powering cloud-based computing

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RackSpace, HP, Canonical, and other OpenStack members are combining forces to build what they say will be the first-ever ARM processor-based cloud. The goal is to build an extremely efficient, powerful, but inexpensive cloud with low power consumption.

“The explosion of cloud apps is creating new problems in the data center,” Mark Collier, a Rackspace vice president, said in a statement. “ARM-powered OpenStack clouds [combine] a radically more efficient chip architecture with the flexible OpenStack cloud operating system designed to manage them at scale.”

ARM processors are known for their miserly power consumption and low cost, which is why ARM chips power 73 percent of all mobile devices. Those same qualities are important in a cloud environment, where speed and power need to be balanced with energy costs and heat.

Servers, and therefore clouds, have traditionally been built with x86 chips from Intel, an ARM competitor. No one has yet built a commercial cloud with the ARM processors, partly because software needs to be tweaked to run on the non-X86 chip architecture, and partly because most ARM processors are 32-bit, while enterprise software is often 64-bit.

But in recent years, as ARM processors added power to their long-known and valued efficiency, they’ve become a viable option for servers.

A key member of the partnership is Calxeda, an Austin-based hardware startup that launched an ARM-based server-on-a-chip processor late last year. Using exactly that technology, HP, another one of the partners in today’s announcement, managed to squeeze 288 quad-core ARM processors into a 4U server, packing an incredible 1,152 processor cores into a single server.

That kind of compact power can drive significant cloud applications.

According to Calxeda VP Karl Freund, “There is massive demand from end-users, ISVs, and members of the open source community to access this new technology.”

OpenStack is an open-source cloud architecture, supported by 180 companies, that is intended to drive open standards in clouds, reducing customer lock-in to any one solution (such as Amazon Web Services). Adding ARM capabilities could make it a very attractive low-power option for those partners, and others.

Dell, Marvell, and Red Hat have also each announced similar ARM-based server products, although it’s not clear if there are currently clouds operational with those companies’ solutions.

Image credit: RawCaptured/ShutterStock

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