AWS bakes own ARM-as-a-service

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ARM has an enduring presence. Surviving the early years more by love than planning, its processor architectures rose to dominate embedded and smart phones – 95 per cent of the latter.

But attempts to move ARM from device to server have proved rather more challenging – occupying the budgets of some the industry’s biggest names. Even ARM is taking a run at goal – telling October’s Arm TechCon one million ARM-based servers would ship in 2018.

Undaunted by the odds of the server-side, Amazon this week announced not only has it delivered a set of AWS ARM instances but it’s also built its own, custom ARM processors.

Jeff Besos’ cloud giant at its annual re:Invent giant Monday revealed it’s built two 64-bit processors, named Graviton. The duo will run two A1 EC2 instances and support Linux 2, RHEL and Ubuntu today with “additional” operating systems promised.

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Where others have taken on the cost and effort of building and selling ARM servers, Amazon believes the path to success lies in offering ARM-as-service – not as a box.

AWS claims its Graviton instances are suited to scale-out workloads such as containerized microservices, web servers, development environments and caching fleets. Graviton will be up to 45 per cent cheaper than existing architectures, depending on configurations, AWS said.

The processors work with Nitro, AWS’s Lego-like system for building instances in block form that it introduced in June. The chips will offload the EC2 functions to Nitro allowing – AWS said – “100 per cent of the hardware to be devoted to the customer instances.”

Application support has typically tripped other vendors’ plans for ARM boxes. With the mass market of devs writing for Intel x86, ARM has meant devs must re-code, compile of modify. Less so with Graviton – if you are a web dev, although how far you must change isn’t entirely clear.

Jeff Barr, AWS chief evangelist, blogged here: “If your application is written in a scripting language, odds are that you can simply move it over to an A1 instance and run it as-is. If your application compiles down to native code, you will need to rebuild it on an A1 instance.”

ARM-as-a-service has been enabled by Amazon’s 2015 purchase of Israeli chip designer Annapurna Labs for several million dollars. Annapurna was an ARM system-on-a-chip licensee that concentrated on Internet of Things but whose engineering brains were deployed to Nitro.

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