Red Hat Enterprise Linux for ARM arrives after seven years of development

The promise of running serious Linux servers on ARM processors has been there for ages. Now, at long last, the reality is here.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

For years, we've wanted ARM servers. Even Microsoft has thrown its server hat in the ARM ring. Now, Red Hat has moved this from an idea to a shipping product: RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) for ARM.

RHEL for ARM has a RHEL 7.4 user space with the 4.11 Linux kernel. It also comes with updated standard RHEL 7 Server RPMs packages.

The new corporate Linux is for use with 64-bit server-optimized System on a Chip (SoC ) silicon. These are designed for cloud, telecomm, edge, and high-performance computing core applications.

Why do we care about yet another platform being support by Linux? Simple. A 64-bit ARM-powered microserver has a thermal design power (TDP) of of between 10 and 45 watts. A conventional x86 server runs at 90 watts. The lower the power consumption, the lower your server and data center operating running costs.

Jon Masters, Red Hat's chief ARM architect, is very proud of his team's work. "Making ARM servers real for the mainstream enterprise required working up and down the entire stack -- from the early architecture and platform standardization stage, to pre-silicon design, to validation and verification of platforms, to operating system enablement, to ecosystem development, and beyond. We helped with the design of server standards, with silicon design, we co-founded LinaroEnterprise Group to help pull Linux in the right direction for real servers."

Now that RHEL for ARM is here, can ARM find a place in the data center? Sure, it costs less to run ARM servers, but how do they compare to x86 servers in performance? The early benchmark numbers look good.

CloudFlare, a major Content Deliver Network (CDN) company, has been comparing ARM and Intel server platforms. Vlad Krasnov, a Cloudflare engineer, benchmarked an engineering-sample server fitted with a 2.5Ghz 46-core Qualcomm Centriq SoC against a dual-socket 2.2GHz Broadwell Xeon E5-2630 v4 with a 3.1 GHz turbo mode, and a dual-socket 2.1Ghz Xeon Silver 4116 system with a 3 GHz turbo clock.

"The engineering sample ... impressed me a lot," Krasnov found. "This is a huge step up from any previous attempt at ARM based servers. Certainly, core for core, the Intel Skylake is far superior, but when you look at the system level the performance becomes very attractive."

Last, but not least, the largest ARM win is its "low power consumption. Although it has a TDP of 120W, during my tests it never went above 89W. In comparison Skylake and Broadwell both went over 160W, while the TDP of the two CPUs is 170W."

In short, with a supported RHEL for ARM operating system and the newest ARM processors, ARM really is becoming a serious contender for your data center dollar.

Try it. RHELfor ARM ISO images are available now for download.

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