Citrix has started porting its Xen hypervisor to ARMv8, said CTO Ahmed Sallam. It's aiming to complete a prototype port in the first quarter next year and begin validation on AppliedMicro's hardware in the second quarter, he said.
Virtualization isn't an obvious candidate for ARM servers, given their focus on efficiency rather than performance. But virtualization can be useful for moving workloads between servers for maintenance, among other tasks.
ARM servers are also being eyed for analyzing big data, which can be broken up efficiently over hundreds or thousands of CPU cores. But big data requires more than the 4GB memory supported by 32-bit processors, said Amr Adwallah, CTO of Cloudera, which makes software based on Apache Hadoop.
"Big data is big; it needs more than 4GB of RAM, so cracking that boundary [to 64-bit ARM] is important for us," he said.
ARM cores are also good because Hadoop clusters can have thousands of nodes, and x86 cores burn too much power at idle, he said. "Cores from other vendors -- without saying their name -- consume significantly more power in the idle state, hence we're relieved that ARM is moving into this space," he said.
The 10Gbit Ethernet support built into AppliedMicro's system-on-chip is also a boost, he said. "Big data needs 10 Gig to push enough data in and out of those cores to keep them busy," Adwallah said. Buying a separate interface card can add thousands to the cost of a server, he said.
Testimonials from customers might also help ARM-based servers take hold, but right now they are few and far between, in part because 64-bit ARM hardware is still in the early prototype stage, and there are few systems out there.
Facebook, Amazon and Morgan Stanley all pledged support for ARM servers this week, though none would confirm they are actually testing ARM servers. It seems likely they are, however, since they are appearing at ARM events.
Thomas Walker, a systems architect at Morgan Stanley, said his firm operates about 76,000 servers in its data centers, up from 4,000 10 years ago, so it's not hard to see why they're interested in more energy-efficient systems.
To make ARM servers a reality, he's looking for "major improvements" in the GNU tools and support for LAMP, Hadoop and other open-source packages.
Morgan Stanley's use of Cloudera is growing, he said, and "64-bit is really where we want to be."
"That's why I'm eagerly awaiting my hardware," Walker said.