The x86 chip, the processor for millions of servers around the globe, is an Intel crown jewel. But now it appears that software has invaded the land of hardware yet again with the news that a group of Russian developers is building an emulation capability to run x86 programs on ARM-based servers.
It’s a noteworthy development and could give ARM systems on chip (SOC) makers the capability to get adoption as an alternative to Intel x86 processors.
Intel’s x86 architecture is definitely under attack. A number of companies are exploring how to replace Intel x86 chips with the low-power capabilities that ARM provides. Applied Micro, Calxeda, Cavium, Marvell, Nvidia, and Samsung are all aggressively pursuing the opportunity to take Intel market share.
It’s a wide-open market, as data center owners become more focused on how they can get more performance at a lower cost. Power is a chief concern. Remember — it is the ARM processors that run smartphones and tablets. It’s these same processors that are hoped will some day run the world’s data centers.
According to EETimes, “Elbrus Technologies has developed emulation software that currently delivers 40 percent of native ARM performance.” The goal is to reach the 80 percent mark. The company believes it can reach this level of performance by the end of 2014.
The Elbrus Tech software uses a parallel compilation process and stores translations in volatile memory to decrease overhead when starting up. The binary translator will have “several levels of optimization for ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ regions of code,” said Konukhov.
The problem comes down to talent. There just are not that many developers who are focused on this kind of work. And there is a lot of work to be done to support the world’s servers that now run on x86.
But we do face a new reality. As processors can compute ever more data then we will come to a time when a server is the size of a smartphone and the whole world becomes a node.
When that time comes, low-power processors will not be what is desired but rather what is required to move data, create networks, and store information on an atomic level. That won’t be accomplished with hardware. It will be up to the software developers to change the world.