Going into 2014, the server market is set to face the biggest disruption since AMD launched the 64-bit x86 AMD Opteron™ processor - the first 64-bit x86 processor - in 2003. Processors based on ARM’s 64-bit ARMv8 architecture will start to appear next year, and just like the x86 AMD Opteron™ processors a decade ago, AMD’s ARM 64-bit processors will offer enterprises a viable option for efficiently handling vast amounts of data.


The AMD Opteron processor came at a time when x86 processors were seen by many as silicon that could only power personal computers, with specialized processors running on architectures such as SPARC™ and Power™ being the ones that were handling server workloads. Back in 2003, the AMD Opteron processor did more than just offer another option, it made the x86 architecture a viable contender in the server market - showing that processors based on x86 architectures could compete effectively against established architectures. Thanks in no small part to the AMD Opteron processor, today the majority of servers shipped run x86 processors.


In 2014, AMD will once again disrupt the datacenter as x86 processors will be joined by those that make use of ARM’s 64-bit architecture. Codenamed “Seattle,” AMD’s first ARM-based Opteron processor will use the ARMv8 architecture, offering low-power processing in the fast growing dense server space.


To appreciate what the first ARM-based AMD Opteron processor is designed to deliver to those wanting to deploy racks of servers, it is important to realize that the ARMv8 architecture offers a clean slate on which to build both hardware and software.


ARM’s ARMv8 architecture is much more than a doubling of word-length from previous generation ARMv7 architecture: it has been designed from the ground-up to provide higher performance while retaining the trademark power efficiencies that everyone has come to expect from the ARM architecture. AMD’s “Seattle” processors will have either four or eight cores, packing server-grade features such as support for up to 128 GB of ECC memory, and integrated 10Gb/sec of Ethernet connectivity with AMD’s revolutionary Freedom™ fabric, designed to cater for dense compute systems.


We realize that having an impressive set of hardware features in the first ARM-based Opteron processors is half of the story, and that is why we are hard at work on making sure the software ecosystem will support our cutting edge hardware. Work on software enablement has been happening throughout the stack - from the UEFI, to the operating system and onto application frameworks and developer tools such as compilers and debuggers. This ensures that the software will be ready for ARM-based servers.


AMD’s participation in software projects is well documented, being a gold member of the Linux Foundation, the organization that manages the development of the Linux kernel, and a group member of Linaro. AMD is a gold sponsor of the Apache Foundation, which oversees projects such as Hadoop, HTTP Server and Samba among many others, and the company’s engineers are contributors to the OpenJDK project. This is just a small selection of the work AMD is taking part in, and these projects in particular highlight how important AMD feels that open source software is to the data center, and in particular micro servers, that make use of ARM-based processors.


And running ARM-based processors doesn’t mean giving up on the flexibility of virtual machines, with KVM already ported to the ARMv8 architecture. Another popular hypervisor, Xen, is already available for 32-bit ARM architectures with a 64-bit port planned, ensuring that two popular and highly capable hypervisors will be available.


The Linux kernel has supported 64-bit ARMv8 architecture since Linux 3.7, and a number of popular Linux distributions have already signaled their support for the architecture including Canonical’s Ubuntu and the Red Hat sponsored Fedora distribution. In fact there is a downloadable, bootable Ubuntu distribution available in anticipation for ARMv8-based processors.


It’s not just operating systems and applications that are available. Developer tools such as the extremely popular open source GCC compiler and the vital GNU C Library (Glibc) have already been ported to the ARMv8 architecture and are available for download. With GCC and Glibc good to go, a solid foundation for developers to target the ARMv8 architecture is forming.


All of this work on both hardware and software should shed some light on just how big ARM processors will be in the data center. AMD, an established enterprise semiconductor vendor, is uniquely placed to ship both 64-bit ARMv8 and 64-bit x86 processors that enable “mixed rack” environments. And thanks to the army of software engineers at AMD, as well as others around the world who have committed significant time and effort, the software ecosystem will be there to support these revolutionary processors. 2014 is set to see the biggest disruption in the data center in over a decade, with AMD again at the center of it.


Lawrence Latif is a blogger and technical communications representative at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied.