Arm celebrates hitting a few of its own milestones this week in its long quest to compete with x86 stalwarts Intel and AMD in the server processor space.
One, we’re told, is that Microsoft Ampere Altra-based Azure servers are now Arm SystemReady SR certified, “the first cloud solution provider (CSP) server to do so,” the system architect said Monday. Chief of Arm Andy Rose.
Another is that Azure virtual machines powered by Altra processors are the first of their kind to be certified as compliant with the SystemReady Virtual Environment standard. And the other breakthrough, according to Rose, is that there have been more than 50 SystemReady product certifications since the program launched.
Introduced in late 2020 as part of Arm’s Cassini project, SystemReady defines a set of firmware and hardware standards for things like servers and workstations, on-board electronics and smartNICs, and aims to ensure that the software runs smoothly on compliant systems. If your application stack is designed for, say, the SystemReady SR requirement set, you need to be sure that it will run on products that are certified as SystemReady SR compliant.
This kind of validation is important because Arm doesn’t have the luxury of decades of server and workstation software support enjoyed by its x86 competitors, said Daniel Newman, principal analyst and founder of Futurum. The register. “I think the idea of change is somewhat daunting for many organizations,” he added.
Grow by degrees
SystemReady essentially provides software developers, original equipment suppliers and chipmakers with a baseline for system development. The SystemReady base system architecture, for example, provided a minimum set of hardware requirements to boot an operating system.
Arm initially offered four levels of certification. SystemReady LS targeted hyperscaler server hardware running Linux-based operating systems and hypervisors, while SR-certified workstations and servers can run Linux, VMware, BSD Unix and Windows operating systems. The chip designer’s SystemReady IR and ES levels, meanwhile, were designed for Arm systems integrated along similar lines.
The chip designer has since expanded its lineup to include certifications for virtual environments and, as mentioned, now has over 50 certifications.
According to Newman, Arm SystemReady is a step in the right direction.
“Anything they can do to gain support from hyperscalers and to simplify the refactoring and process of new architectures in the data center will be important in driving Arm adoption,” he said.
Arun Kishan, corporate vice president at Microsoft Azure, cited several benefits of the program for the cloud provider and its customers. Chief among them was consistent software support across multiple generations of Arm-based systems.
“At its core, the Arm SystemReady Compliance Certification Program preserves the investments we and our customers make in our software stacks,” Kishan said in a canned statement.
“For Microsoft Azure, the SystemReady platform certification means we can easily transition from one generation to the next. For customers, SystemReady Virtual Environment (VE) certification means that their software investments are also preserved across multiple generations of virtual machines. Arm’s SystemReady compliance program is an essential part of building an innovative and scalable server ecosystem.
Microsoft went deeper into Arm data center waters last month with its virtual machines powered by Ampere’s Altra Arm processors. The chip startup’s Mt Jade platform is among the first SystemReady-certified SR systems.
“Creating a complete ecosystem, from processor to server platform to software stack, is critically important to Ampere’s success,” said the company’s Chief Product Officer, Jeff Wittich, in an e-mail to The register.
“A big part of that is making sure that when customers buy an Ampere-based server, everything in their software stack works right out of the box.”
To date, Ampere silicon powers 12 SystemReady-certified systems, with more to come, according to Wittich.
Announced in 2020, Ampère’s Altra family uses Arm’s Neoverse N1 microarchitecture and is available in SKUs of up to 80 cores per package clocked at up to 3.3 GHz. Ampere then increased the core count to 128 with Altra Max in 2021.
Microsoft’s D-series and E-series Azure virtual machines can be equipped with up to 64 Altra cores, 208 GB of RAM, 40 Gbps networking and high-speed SSD storage.
However, Microsoft is not the first to adopt Arm processors for the cloud. Amazon is now on its third generation of Graviton processors, while Oracle announced a new line of low-cost Arm-based instances last year, also based on Ampere’s Altra processors.
Gaining support from Oracle, Azure and AWS is “meaningful validation” for Arm and “will lead to greater confidence in businesses and public cloud consumers,” Newman said.
While this is a step in the right direction, Newman notes that Arm still has a long way to go to compete with Intel and AMD, which dominate the data center server processor market.
“I don’t think x86 is in much danger, but I think with more and more volume and more and more support from hyperscalers, we will definitely see Arm gain more market share,” said he declared. “The global demand for computers is so exponential that I think there are plenty of marketing opportunities for everyone.” ®