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Microsoft ports its Windows Server OS to the Qualcomm Centriq SoC

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March 8, 2017

Here's a piece of news that some in the industry may not have expected until some time in 2018.

We just learned that Microsoft has decided to port its Windows Server operating system to the Qualcomm Centriq CPU, a new 64-bit ARM-compatible server-grade system-on-chip (SoC).

In a brisk move that will place even more pressure on Intel which dominates the data center market but is already unnerved by AMD's new Naples server processor, Qualcomm and Microsoft will today demonstrate Windows Server running on a 10 nm Centriq 2400 system at the Open Compute Project Summit in Santa Clara, California.

But for now, the new Windows Server build is for internal use only at Microsoft, nothing surprising there. There's obviously still a lot of testing to complete before the final release is ready to ship.

Nevertheless, Microsoft and Qualcomm declined to comment on any plans to make the operating system available to the public, and no date has been set either.

Microsoft and Qualcomm have been seen close recently. The two firms are working on Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 laptops and mobile devices, due out later in Q3 or Q4 2017.

We can surely imagine a Windows Server offering being readied for the public in some form or another for Centriq-based systems. For a while, Microsoft engineers have configured their toolchain systems to emit 64-bit ARMv8 builds of Windows Server, as well as the usual x86 builds, for internal testing.

What's happening now is that the necessary drivers and kernel support for the Centriq system-on-chip have been completed to the point where the stack can be demonstrated to the public at Microsoft's OCP Summit booth.

And there is absolutely no point showing off the software if it's just going to be shelved and forgotten. Windows Server on Qualcomm-designed silicon is probably likely to appear in the Microsoft Azure cloud before the end of 2017.

For its part, Qualcomm asserts that it has been working for several years with Microsoft, with some of that time on-site, to produce a specific version of Windows Server optimized for ARM servers.

Qualcomm's Centriq family uses the Falkor microarchitecture, and features up to forty-eight 64-bit ARMv8-compatible cores made using a 10 nm FinFET proprietary process.

If this hits the data center market on time, it's slated to ship in volume in the latter half of this year, it will beat Intel's 10 nm Xeons by about a year.

Qualcomm's SoC line already runs a few flavors of Linux from Red Hat and Canonical as of mid-February.

Qualcomm, a California chip designer, has submitted various blueprints for Centriq 2400 motherboards to the Open Compute Project.

This means that if the OCP committee approves the designs, they will be published for anyone to use, meaning that the specifications can be used by electronics factories to help make Qualcomm server boxes at a relatively loc cost, and snapped up by cloud giants.

That initiative was thought up by Facebook as a way to get machines mass produced by any willing manufacturers without having to negotiate with the likes of Dell and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Today, Qualcomm and Microsoft said their Open Compute specifications were designed to manage various workloads in the Azure cloud.

Windows Server on Qualcomm-designed Centriq CPUs is coming to Microsoft's cloud, and probably faster than some might think.

The Qualcomm Centriq 2400 Open Compute motherboard has a single socket for a Centriq SoC with up to 48 cores, a 50 Gb/s NIC, 32 lanes of PCIe 3, two USB ports, 1 GbE PHY, eight SATA ports, and six channels of DDR4 RAM running at 2667 MT/s with one or two DIMMs per channel. Quite impressive for such a small physical package.

This sits on a 210 mm by 404 mm half-width 1U mobo that fits in a standard 19" server rack. "This is to get the server ecosystem prepped up and ready," said Ram Peddibhotla, vice president of product management at Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies.

He asserted-- "In collaborating with Microsoft and other industry leading partners, we are democratizing system design and enabling a broad-based ARM server ecosystem."

There's no question that the industry is rapidly evolving, and certainly more changes are to be expected real soon. We'll keep you in the loop.

Source: Microsoft.

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