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ARM-based servers: The next evolution of the cloud?


The benefits of cloud computing have already been well documented, from increased productivity among employees to giving companies added capabilities to expand their business. While the benefits are certainly helpful, that doesn’t mean the innovation that drives the cloud has gone away. If anything, new innovations are propelling the cloud to new levels, and one of those breakthroughs may be the next big thing in cloud computing: ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) processors. While ARM processors are an entirely new technology, their inclusion in servers used for the cloud could represent the next leap of evolution for cloud computing.

The basic idea is to employ servers that are powered by ARM processors. At present, most cloud servers use x86 chips, most of which are produced by companies like Intel. These chips have been used for years and are considered the most reliable technology to ensure continuous cloud usage. As is the way of all things in the business world, however, innovative solutions may end up supplanting the old technology. Announcements in the past year or so have shown major companies are seriously looking into how best to use ARM-based servers for cloud computing purposes.

Dell and Hewlett-Packard have indicated interest in developing an alternative to x86 data centre technology mostly through ARM processors. Lenovo is also getting in on the action, announcing a partnership with the UK-based Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to develop and test ARM-based servers.

It isn’t just high-tech companies hopping on the ARM bandwagon either; major cloud providers have taken an intense interest in just what ARM technology can give to improve the cloud. Amazon and Microsoft – two of the biggest cloud providers in the world – have both taken steps in experimenting with ARM-based servers. Amazon in particular, with its Amazon Web Services, has made waves by hiring experts in ARM processing from a recently failed startup company. While Amazon has been tight-lipped about the endeavour, the goal may be to creating custom-made chips that work well with ARM architecture. If Amazon and Microsoft both dive deep into ARM technology, the x86 model may no longer be the dominant cloud option in a few years.

While it’s clear that many companies both large and small have targeted ARM-based servers for cloud use, some may still ask about the actual benefits that ARM processors bring to the cloud. Perhaps one of the biggest beneficiary aspects of ARM technology is that it is far more energy efficient than the alternatives.

This results in a number of helpful consequences for cloud providers and businesses, the most impactful being the reduction of costs. Cloud servers require a significant amount of energy to keep running, and any technology that saves energy immediately cuts down on costs. The demand for greater efficiency is growing as well. Beyond the cloud, big data and mobile technology have increased the need to have an energy efficient solution to cut down on rising costs. ARM-based servers may be the answer, so many are looking for by putting more operating power in a smaller physical space.

ARM processors may also be a necessary component for the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the future, especially when it comes to providing an environment for testing the use of so many internet-connected devices.

With greater energy efficiency and lower costs, ARM-based servers may come to play a larger role in the cloud computing landscape. That’s not to say that the traditional x86 chip technology will completely go away; ARM-based servers may not be a good choice when it comes to the largest databases that are considered the most mission-critical to organisations. Even so, ARM processors may be a useful way to get even more out of the cloud through an innovative advance that magnifies many of the benefits of cloud computing. In time, ARM-based servers could help the cloud evolve to help businesses in fascinating new ways.