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Green Computing Makes a Giant Leap Forward …thanks to the iPhone?…and ARM processors!

December 28, 2012  |  Written by Shawn Kaplan

Advances in multi-core computing have allowed far greater compute densities such that nearly all datacenter racks run out of available power far sooner than physical space.  Traditional High Performance Computing (HPC) X86 clusters can consume upwards of 400W per rack unit (U), this means that a typical data center rack with a 5KW – 8KW circuit can be maxed out in as little as 1/4 or 1/2 of the available space.  Many of today’s forward thinking IT leaders are asking “Why can’t I have both extremely dense computing and better power efficiency? 

I've been talking to a number of financial services and digital media customers about the potential that the "ARM Sever Revolution" is showing against X86.  For those of you new to ARM, these are the processors found in the smartphone or tablet you're carrying around.  As you can imagine, they are powerful yet extremely light on power consumption.  While initially only targeted at mobile computing, chip and board manufacturers are re-applying these technologies to enterprise class server applications.  You can now go to HP and order a server configured with ARM processors.

Calxeda, for example, has some very interesting technology bringing power savings and a density of Linux servers that have the potential to turn this market on its head.  One of their OEMS is talking about 24 Calxeda EnergyCore(TM) server nodes, 96GB of memory, and 6TB storage is measuring 130W “at the wall”.   That is not a typo.  T-w-e-n-t-y F-o-u-r (24) servers in a 2U chassis for 130W. By comparison, this can be as much as a 20-1 reduction in power from traditional x86 architecture. At these numbers, configurations of literally THOUSANDS of cores are now possible into a single cabinet.

What's held back the adoption of other more exotic solutions like FPGA and GPU has been that they require complete rewrites of applications.  Perhaps the most compelling part of the "ARM Revolution" is that ARM servers run Linux!  This means that ARM servers running Linux offer compute/watt advantages without requiring a complete rewrite. Developers will be able to recompile and retarget applications with a quick recompile.  Better cost, better power, better TCO, with the push of a button. 

Keep an eye out for ARM processors and what this revolution can bring to the financial services industry in 2013.