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Dell Pushes ARM Servers to Open Source Apache Project

By Sean Michael Kerner (Send Email)
Posted October 25, 2012


The Apache Software Foundation is one of the most influential open source groups today, overseeing the HTTP web server, Hadoop, Tomcat and many other widely used programs.

Thanks in part to some help from Dell, Apache is now turning its attention to the ARM server architecture to complement efforts on x86 and other platforms. Dell has donated a Calxeda ARM-powered server that Dell is referring to as "Zinc" for use by Apache.

Drew Schulke, product marketing manager for Dell DCS, told ServerWatch that efforts are now underway to port existing x86-based software to ARM.

"Calxeda will work with the open-source community for porting efforts," Schulke said. "Calxeda will directly contribute code fixes for certain projects like Apache Hadoop. The hardware, however, is available for any of the Apache project developers to use to test/port their project code."

Apache Open SourceThe hardware itself is impressive. The Dell Zinc machines consist of a cluster of 24 Calxeda 4-core SOCs. In total, that amounts to 96 cores of ARM Cortex A9 that power the Dell Zinc.

There is 4 GB of RAM per node, delivering 96GB total for the cluster. From a storage perspective, the system has 24 x 500GB SATA drives, and all nodes are fully connected via 10GbE internal fabric links.

Schulke noted that each SOC supports up to 80Gb/s bandwidth. From a network bandwidth perspective, there is 1 x 10GbE network uplink available for the Dell-donated server. In terms of the bare metal operating system, the Dell Zinc server uses Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Linux.

The Dell Zinc server is a different platform than the Dell Copper ARM server that Dell has previously publicly talked about. Schulke explained that Dell wanted to incorporate the ARM SOCs (System on Chips) in different form factors to test various usage models, so they picked two that are already in use for other DCS products.

"Zinc nodes are installed on a variant of our C8000 chassis – 5 sleds in a 4U chassis that utilizes a generous extra long rack depth, allowing for very high density per rack," Schulke explained. "Copper is housed in a variant of our C5000 chassis – 12 sleds in a 3U chassis optimized for standard depth racks, providing a nice size of capacity for customers who don’t need massive rack density or might choose to scale out over time."

ARM Challenges

When it comes to getting applications ready to run on ARM there aren't too many challenges. Schulke noted that a large majority of projects are Java-based and will just run, while others simply need to have new compiler options applied and to target the new architecture.

"In other words, it's pretty easy," Schulke said. "Long term there are optimization opportunities, but that is the natural iterative evolution of software regardless of the architecture."

Dell's ARM servers are not commercially generally available yet.

"We don’t comment on future roadmap plans, and are focused right now on enabling the developer community to test and deploy applications to ARM," Schulke said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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