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EETE MAR 2014

ARM’s server platform standard to ease OS interoperability By Julien Happich ARM’s recent anouncement of a collaboratively developed platform standard for ARMv8-A based (64-bit) servers comes after years of consensus across many partners, three years after the first specifications of the ARMv8-A 64-bit architecture were announced, and about a year after the actual IP was made available. During all that time, ARM worked closely with OS and firmware vendors such as Canonical, Citrix, Linaro, Microsoft, Red Hat and SUSE, but also OEMs including Dell and HP along with silicon partners such as AMD, Applied Micro, Broadcom and Texas Instruments. “We’ve put the specs out for people to review and question, under non-disclosure agreements”, said Jeff Underhill, Director for Server Programs at ARM when talking to EE Times Europe. “This was still a forward The Server Base System Architecture Specification defines common blocks at SoC-level. looking activity, with discussions on IP that was not yet in the public domain”, Underhill added. The goal of the ‘Server Base System Architecture’ (SBSA) specification is to provide a framework with all the common blocks defined at SoC-level, in order to accelerate software development and ease OS and firmware portability across ARM-based platforms. In effect, the SBSA sets the minimum hardware requirements and ensures that all the platform hardware (including heterogeneous elements) is describable or discoverable. It also defines platform virtualization. “Basically, all agree to have watch dog controllers and timers, virtualized interrupts and IOs, performance monitoring units, things that an OS need to boot out of the box. So let’s agree on the way we do that so OS and firmware vendors can make their products portable across all the ARM platforms, irrespective of which OS variant they offer”, said Underhill. “You are still free to innovate beyond the basic specs. Silicon vendors can bring their value-added components, for example more advanced features such as accelerators, and we don’t want to lock that down. But make sure that they are discoverable by any OS through the same mechanism”, he clarified. The enterprise server space is relatively new to ARM, conceded Underhill, but ARM has a healthy alignment with the networking space. “We estimate that the total available market (TAM) of servers will grow 30% by 2017 and we expect to capture between 5 and 10% of that TAM with the SBSA”. By 2020, 25% of servers could be ARM-based, according to industry analysts. “As ARM’s data center ecosystem continues its rapid growth, this milestone enables partners to focus on their innovation while building on standards that help simplify their development and accelerate their time-to-market,” said Mike Muller, ARM’s chief technology officer in a statement. At the Open Compute Summit a few days ago, partner AMD has announced a comprehensive development platform for its first 64-bit ARM-based server CPU, fabricated on a 28nm process. The company also announced its contribution to a new micro-server design using its AMD Opteron A-Series processor codenamed “Seattle” and due to sample this quarter. Other partner, Applied Micro, has announced X-Gene 2, expected to sample in spring 2014 as the world’s first ARMv8 scale-out Server-on-Chip. Example system block diagram showing power domains and timer hierarchy. www.electronics-eetimes.com Electronic Engineering Times Europe March 2014 19


EETE MAR 2014
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