Dell is taking a pragmatic approach and setting up servers so developers can write and compile software and get a feel for ARM servers, Norrod said. Dell clients will get to understand the opportunities around ARM, and get a head start in developing software and infrastructure for the servers, he added.
"What's interesting about ARM is not what's available today, but what may be available in 18 to 24 months," Norrod said.
Dell's first Copper servers will be used in the U.S. and China, and then spread across the rest of Dell's worldwide "solution centers" where customers can build reference designs for server and software installations. One is being installed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, where developers will be able to book time to use the server. Dell officials said the clusters on the ARM server can also be accessed remotely by customers.
The 3U rackmount chassis has 48 ARM servers with a total of 192 processor cores, with each ARM server drawing a maximum of 15 watts of power. Each server uses Marvell's quad-core Armada XP 78460 chip, which runs at 1.6GHz, and has error correction features and networking and storage components.
Dell does not plan general availability of the server at this time, but the company will monitor the market and decide whether to launch it publicly over time, said Steve Cummings, executive director for marketing at Dell's Data Center Solutions division.
Dell is following the example of HP, which in November said it would offer its first, proof-of-concept low-power ARM server so early access customers can test and benchmark it. The server packs 288 chips from ARM licensee Calxeda into a 4U rack-mount server, and is part of a new HP platform dubbed the Redstone Server Development Platform.
Rolling the clock forward, Dell's Norrod said he couldn't predict the future, but said that since Microsoft is bringing Windows 8 to ARM, it is possible that other companies will start porting applications to ARM. Norrod pointed out that software options are growing for ARM servers.
A version of the Linux-based Ubuntu OS is available for ARM and the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP software) stack has also been optimized for ARM. Dell also said Hadoop, Openstack, and Java have also been optimized for ARM. Dell has written Crowbar, it's open-source management framework, to work on ARM servers. Crowbar helps install, deploy, and monitor cloud software across clusters.
Moreover, ARM's emergence on servers could keep Intel on its legs, Norrod said. Intel and AMD will not rest on their laurels, and will continue to innovate, which helps the server market.
"Intel sees ARM as an existential threat," Norrod said.