Calxeda lays out 64-bit ARM server strategy

The ARM server specialist plans to release a new 32-bit server next year, then will follow this in 2014 with a 64-bit capable server.

Low-power, 64-bit ARM servers from Calxeda will make their way into the datacentre in 2014, the company has revealed.

On Wednesday, the server start-up gave details of its roadmap, outlining plans for two new generations of hardware built on its own version of 64-bit and 32-bit ARM chips.

"The processor roadmap goes to [ARM] A15 next year and then 64-bit the following year," Karl Freund, Calxeda's vice president of marketing, told ZDNet. "64-bit opens up a much broader market."

Chip architecture company ARM introduced its 64-bit v8 chips in late 2011 . It typically takes around a year to 18 months before ARM licensees are able to tweak a processor for their own designs and begin making them.

At the moment, Calxeda is in the middle of the pack in terms of timeline. For example, chipmaker and fellow licensee Applied Micro hopes to have a prototype ARM chip at the end of 2012, with production due at some point in 2013.

This contrasts with Calxeda, which is instead doing a 32-bit chip next year and a 64-bit processor the year after. One possible reason for the lag is that the company has to engineer an entire server platform, while Applied Micro is just doing the chip.

Along with this, Calxeda's products incorporate the on-chip Layer 2 network fabric, which adds to overall development. The company took in $55m in funding recently to help it hire more software and hardware engineers

32-bit in 2013

In 2012, Calxeda plans to launch a server codenamed 'Midway', based on the ARM 32-bit A15 processor. The server will use an updated version of Calxeda's on-chip Fabric Switch.

A software upgrade to Fabric Switch will give Midway dynamic power and routing optimisation for clusters of Calxeda servers, the company said in a statement.

As for power — the main reason why companies like Facebook are so interested in ARM servers — Freund said Midway will have a "comparable performance per watt" to Calxeda's current generation of ARM-based 5W EnergyCard servers. 

However, Midway will support more DRAM than the 4GB EnergyCards. This means its power use may increase at a faster rate than performance, due to the different memory footprint, Freund acknowledged.

The company plans to launch the 32-bit Midway server in 2013. It could not be more specific on the release date as it has yet to finalise the design of the processors with its contract chip foundry TSMC.

64-bit arrives in 2014

After Midway, Calxeda plans to deliver a 'Lago' server using ARM's 64-bit v8 chip. It will also have a further upgrade to Fabric Switch, meaning the server will be able to connect "hundreds of thousands of [server] nodes" together, the company said in a statement.

This third generation of fabric is designed to "make it easy to deploy and optimise across fleets of servers", Freund said. Ultimately, Calxeda wants to be able to network together its servers in clusters to run distributed workloads.

Calxeda's strategy is based on ARM servers being used in clusters to support cloud workloads. It strikes me that its commitment to engineering its server and fabric switch may have put it behind some of its competitors in terms of time but ahead in terms of capability. It most likely believes this approach will benefit its equipment in the long run, by making Calxeda servers a better fit for large-scale clouds supporting parallelised workloads.