Windows Server ported to Qualcomm’s ARM server chip. Repeat, Windows Server ported to ARM server chip

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Microsoft has ported its Windows Server operating system to the Qualcomm Centriq – a 64-bit ARM-compatible server-grade system-on-chip.

In a move that will pile further pressure on Intel – which dominates the data center market but is already unnerved by AMD’s Naples server processor – Qualcomm and Microsoft will today show off Windows Server running on a 10nm Centriq 2400 system at the Open Compute Project Summit in California.

The Windows Server build is, so far, for internal use only at Redmond. The software giant and its pal Qualcomm declined to comment on any plans to make the operating system available to the public. Microsoft and Qualy have been getting pretty close recently: the pair are working on Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 laptops and mobile devices, due out later this year.

We can well imagine a Windows Server offering being readied for the public in some form for Centriq-based systems. For a while now, Microsoft engineers have configured their toolchain systems to emit 64-bit ARMv8 builds of Windows Server, as well as the usual x86 builds, for internal testing. What’s happened now is that the necessary drivers and kernel support for the Centriq system-on-chip have been completed to the point where the stack can be demonstrated in public at Microsoft’s OCP Summit booth.

And there is absolutely no point showing off the software port if it’s just going to be shelved and forgotten. From what we can gather, Windows Server on Qualcomm-designed silicon is likely to appear in the Microsoft Azure cloud before the end of the year. Qualcomm says it has been working for “several years” with Microsoft, with some of that time on-site, to produce a version of Windows Server optimized for ARM servers.

Qualcomm’s Centriq family uses the Falkor microarchitecture, and features up to 48 64-bit ARMv8-compatible cores fabricated using a 10nm FinFET process. If it hits the data center market on time – it’s slated to ship in volume in the latter half of 2017 – it will beat Intel’s 10nm Xeons by roughly 12 months. The system-on-chip line officially, for now, runs flavors of Linux from Red Hat and Canonical.

Get your server designs here

Qualy, a California chip designer, has submitted blueprints for Centriq 2400 motherboards to the Open Compute Project. This means if the OCP committee approves the designs, they will be published for anyone to use – meaning the specifications can be used by electronics factories to bang out Qualcomm server boxes relatively cheaply and snapped up by cloud giants and enterprises. This approach was thought up by Facebook as a way to get machines mass produced by any willing manufacturer without having to negotiate and fuss around with the likes of Dell, Lenovo and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Today Qualcomm and Microsoft said their Open Compute specifications were designed to juggle workloads in the Azure cloud. Basically, as we said, Windows Server on Qualcomm-designed Centriq CPUs is coming to Microsoft’s cloud.

The Qualcomm Centriq 2400 Open Compute Motherboard has a single socket for a Centriq SoC with up to 48 cores, a 50Gb/s NIC, 32 lanes of PCIe 3, two USB ports, 1GbE PHY, eight SATA ports, and six channels of DDR4 RAM (running at 2667MT/s) with one or two DIMMs per channel. This sits on a 210mm by 404mm half-width 1U mobo that fits in a normal 19″ rack.

“This is to get the server ecosystem prepped and ready,” Ram Peddibhotla, vice president of product management at Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies, told The Register. He added: “In collaborating with Microsoft and other industry leading partners, we are democratizing system design and enabling a broad-based ARM server ecosystem.”

Qualcomm is also joining the OCP Foundation as a gold member, as well as offering its blueprints to evaluation. Below are some snaps of the system – click to enlarge any picture. ®

Overhead view of the Centriq 2400 Open Compute Motherboard

Overhead view of the mobo in a stocked-up 1U rack box

Suggested configurations of a Centriq 2400 Open Compute machine