Dell Deals A Blow To Intel

Photo: Flick/danielmorris

Companies that make expensive servers for enterprises have been kicking the tires on ARM-based servers for a while. Dell today said that it was going to get serious about them and this is going to be good for everyone, except Intel.

Dell has been making custom ARM-based servers for some of its biggest Internet cloud data centre customers since 2010 — a product it calls Dell Copper. But no one else can buy it.

And there’s good reason for that. For one, not a lot of software runs on ARM yet. Today Dell said it was fixing that. It will be sending its Copper servers to Canonical (makers of Ubuntu Linux) and to Cloudera, (makers of big-data software known as Hadoop) so that they can get their software to run on it. If they can, then there’s an instant market for these servers — Hadoop.

And once companies start buying ARM servers, then other software vendors will want to make ARM-based versions, too.

Dell isn’t the only one that’s been dancing around ARM servers. Calxeda already offers an ARM server that runs Ubuntu Linux and that can use a version of Hadoop made by Cloudera’s competitor MapR. And HP has been experimenting with ARM servers, too, via a partnership with Calxeda, reports Engadget

ARM servers use less power and that’s a big deal in a big data centre. This is particularly true as the tech industry builds out cloud computing, Web applications, big data applications — all of which require running software on many, many servers. Less power means that data centres can cram more servers into smaller spaces. That’s cheaper for the companies and better for the environment.

Dell and HP are drooling over ARM because ARM lets each company personalise its chip designs. Server makers can make servers that are best suited to particular types of workloads (like databases, or web applications or big data applications). This is a chance to build in fancy extra options and charge more for servers — if they can get enough software makers to write code for them.

Everyone wins, except Intel.

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