New Processors and New Possibilities

The ARM processor is an amazing example of what can be done when one starts from a blank slate. It really can be seen as the foundation of modern micro-data centers. The ARM processors advance so does the power of servers using them. The reason comes down to how these processors came into being.

Instant Data CenterServers have been using X86-64 based processors for quite some time. This generally comes in a more powerful form than what one would find on a desktop or laptop system. Under the hood, the processors are all compatible with each other. Assuming binary compatibility in the operating system, an x86 based program will work on both a server and a home computer. This might not seem like a problem at first. But one should keep in mind just how long home computers have been around. The 8086 processor was first introduced in 1978. From that point on one of the major goals of the architecture has been backward compatibility. This means that any time a new and better way is found to do something the processor still needs to be able to do it the old way as well. This isn’t much of an issue at first. But over time it can be a huge problem. But not one that can be readily addressed, in large part because of the need to retain compatibility in the desktop space.

ARM processors aren’t typically something the home user is going to be fiddling with, though. The vast majority of people will use multiple devices with ARM processors in the course of their day. But unlike X86-64 based devices, there’s a general assumption that the system is fairly set in stone. People buy new smartphones, they don’t just replace the ARM processor within their current one. This change in general philosophy has led to a very different set of design guidelines for ARM. Size has become one of the most important aspects. Where X86-64 based processors both need to have a lot of extra power to carry the craft of backward compatibility and to draw interest with the larger numbers involved with their general clock speed. The latter was a huge draw with any computer for a long time.

processor But the industry has long since passed the point where it’s all that important for most servers. Now it’s more about efficiency. Efficiency in size, portability and power usage. In some cases even efficiency of the methods by which code is compiled and run. This all comes together perfectly with the earlier focus on portability and abstraction which had been going on within the industry at that point. Some of it has been by design. Other aspects have occurred by fortuitous coincidence. But however it happened, the fact remains. Modern processor design is bringing along dramatic reductions in size if one is willing to switch basic architecture. And this means that micro data centers are poised to become a world changing technology.