Report: Microsoft ports Windows Server to ARM

Well, that cat's finally coming out of the bag. In what's seen in the tech world as an inevitable future, ARM-based chips look to be heading en masse to servers worldwide—in this case, those in Microsoft's cloud infrastructure. According to Bloomberg, the computing giant ported Windows Server to the ARM architecture and is currently testing ARM chips in servers, in preparation for a production deployment in the near future.

Bloomberg says that Microsoft made Windows run on ARM CPUs in a partnership with Qualcomm and Cavium. Microsoft is testing the new chips in search, storage, machine learning, and big-data tasks. The chips will be a part of Microsoft's new open-source cloud server design Project Olympus, announced last year. The company will be offering an update on Olympus at the currently-running Open Compute Project Summit in California.

Using ARM-based chips doesn't appear to be a "let's see what sticks" hobby for Microsoft. In an interview with Bloomberg, Azure VP Jason Zander stated that "this is a significant commitment on behalf of Microsoft. We wouldn't even bring something to a conference if we didn't think this was a committed project and something that's part of our road map." Zander didn't offer to disclose exactly how widespread a production rollout will be, though.

The writing on the wall is clear to anyone that's not living in a pineapple under the sea: Microsoft's impending adoption of ARM-based chips is likely the first challenge to Intel in the server arena. Intel reportedly holds 99% of the server CPU market, and it won't easily part with market share. According to Bloomberg, the first punch may already have landed, as Hewlett Packard Enterprise recently reported poor quarterly revenue thanks to "significant lower demand" from a major customer, believed to be Microsoft. Let them fight, we say.

Comments closed
    • davidbowser
    • 3 years ago

    *Wild speculation ahead*

    The quote came from the Azure VP. This is not really about having ARM servers running Windows in your datacenter, but rather about MS offering an ARM based cloud for customers that they can run Linux or Windows VMs on. This would potentially provide a massive differentiation for Azure in competition with AWS as software companies could write apps that could TRULY be on mobile devices with the same code as on cloud servers.

    After this is running for a bit, the option for MS with all this internal experience is to then have a true mobile-desktop-server-cloud OS and application ecosystem built on a common ARM platform with the added bonus of MS to extend their Surface business to MS branded servers and *gasp* Mobile Phones that someone would buy (besides SSK). This would enable them to theoretically out-Apple Apple with a common OS/look/feel/apps and make money every step of the way.

    *end wild speculation*

    ARM servers sounds like a crazy idea from 5-10 years ago. No way they make money on this.

    • ronch
    • 3 years ago

    I used to want ARM to totally disrupt x86 dominance across the board but really, all we need is a strong alternative in the x86 CPU industry. x86 may have a lot of old baggage but time and time again x86 has proven itself more compelling in terms of performance and efficiency, at least where efficiency isn’t absolutely critical). ARM had a shot at the server market but it looks like that chance has slipped away.

    • blastdoor
    • 3 years ago

    Microsoft’s field of dreams — if we build a non-x86 Windows, competitive non-x86 CPUs will come.

    Certainly it *could* happen. In many ways it *should* happen. It’s just never happened.

    Maybe the n-th time is a charm.

      • chuckula
      • 3 years ago

      APPLE BUILDING A11X SERVERS FOR MICROSOFT CONFIRMED!

        • blastdoor
        • 3 years ago

        Apple would only build ARM servers for Apple.

        But, they might want to run Windows Sever on them (ironically enough).

    • Anonymous Coward
    • 3 years ago

    I guess this signals their commitment to using the MS software stack from top to bottom. Some recent noises made it seem like they thought Linux was not so bad, and in cloud infrastructure, it is easy to suppose Linux can be doing the work behind the scenes, far away from any GUI.

    Very interesting to see Intel under threat on all fronts. Can they continue to sit pretty with essentially one CPU core design for everything, and not even vary many different ways of packaging it? Would they do better by making a wider variety of products?

      • blastdoor
      • 3 years ago

      I think the only reason Intel is under threat is because they have 60% margins and are leaving a huge price umbrella for competitors.

      Intel could wipe everyone out if they wanted to. But that would hurt next quarter’s earnings, so they don’t do it.

        • Anonymous Coward
        • 3 years ago

        Intel could wage a nasty price war and ruin AMD, but ARM & friends would stay standing, probably also Sun/Oracle and IBM. Processors are only part of the system.

        About now, I am wondering what Intel has been doing with all their money. Why don’t they have cores designed for every niche, to support their high profit margins by denying entry at any market level?

          • blastdoor
          • 3 years ago

          Maybe I’m overestimating Intel, but I think they were (and are) fully capable of competing with ARM, but choose not to because they’d have to accept lower margins. More specifically, I’m sure Intel could sell a SOC for smartphones and tablets that equals or surpasses Apple’s SOCs in raw performance and performance/watt.

          But if Intel sold an x86 SOC that powerful at a price that was competitive with ARM SOCs, they’d have to worry about people docking their Windows phone with a monitor and KB, which could cut into their higher margin PC sales. They don’t want to cannibalize their high margin products.

    • Klimax
    • 3 years ago

    IMO: Just a “cover all your bases”.

    • chµck
    • 3 years ago

    Well the writing was on the wall. MS has said before that it’s trying to unify the windows 10 for x86/64 and ARM in a bid to challenge android/iOS in the mobile market.
    Hopefully this will turn around their mobile devices divsion by encouraging developers to port apps onto windows UWP to work on pc, xbox, and mobile.

    • albundy
    • 3 years ago

    the right or the left one?

      • cygnus1
      • 3 years ago

      Rimshot.

      • Pancake
      • 3 years ago

      With Microsoft it’s tentacles all the way down.

    • nutjob2
    • 3 years ago

    Intel can’t compete in the low power stakes with their legacy arch being such a millstone around their neck. Relying on a process advantage has really paid off hey guys? LOL!

    What actually matters going forward is not single thread performance, it’s total throughput for your dollar, which translates into three things: price, performance and power usage. For any combination of those THREE things Intel is a joke, that’s why people like Cavium, AMD and Qualcomm have come to eat their lunch. ARM beats Intel in this space and RISC-V will slaughter it. The industry is seeking to transition away from the Intel monopoly to an open, competitive market with many players. Once the ARM space has matured somewhat, Intel will have losts its last redoubt, and it is toast.

      • Pancake
      • 3 years ago

      I hate x86 as much as anybody who’s done any significant amount of assembly language and seen processors evolve since the 80’s and the extinction of what used to be an amazingly diverse field(*) but they haven’t exactly come to eat Intel’s lunch. So far it’s been more like gnawing on the crumbs and bones left over by the king beast.

      * I had access to all of these different instruction sets (owned about half of them some homebrews and professional designs) growing up and early in my career. Probably more but all I can remember:

      8-bit: 6502, 8085, Z80, 6800, 6809
      16-bit: PDP 11, 8086, TI 32010/20 DSP, Hitachi Super-H
      32-bit: VAX 11, Nat Semi series 32000, Motorola 68k, 80386, ARM
      64-bit: DEC Alpha, MIPS

      all running their own weird and wonderful software ecosystems.

      what is there these days? Utterly boring.

      Edit: if you could give an address for computer architecture these days it would be:

      Boring McBoredface
      11 Boring Lane
      Borington
      South Boring

        • Metonymy
        • 3 years ago

        That reminds me of BYTE and how exciting the early 80’s were in terms of assembler and architecture debates. I did some VAX 11, a little IBM 360, and wanted to buy a Motorola 68000-based computer (from Sage, maybe….) and then saw x86 when we bought out first IBM PC with an 8088, and learned I was going to have to learn to program it… OMG

          • Pancake
          • 3 years ago

          BYTE was an awesome magazine up until the time PCs took over the world. Then it turned into just another boring mindless PC magazine, lost any reason for being and died.

          The 8088 and DOS programming stank but you could put a clip on your nose and bear it. Win 16 on the other hand…

    • tipoo
    • 3 years ago

    It would be *just like* AMD if the moment they fully caught up to Intel even in the edge cases, things had already shifted to ARM 😛

    They did have some ARM projects going but shelved them to focus on Ryzen, which was a good move in the short run, but I hope they don’t take their eye off that ball in the long run. I think ARMs more restrained front end will actually end up making it easier to scale up, once the market shows demand for large ARM cores.

    • Flying Fox
    • 3 years ago

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

    If the reported yield issue is true, then Qualcomm/Samsung cannot supply enough SD835’s (the Windows on ARM is supposed to run on 835-class chips as a minimum, the demo last year was on 820 IIRC) for phones, where do they get an additional supply of chips for those servers? Each time Microsoft orders servers it will be in the 10s and 100s of thousands for their datacenters.

    The Cavium collaboration may be more realistic since they are into networking and other infrastructure stuff, with their custom ARM chips for those gears.

    I do wonder, given Microsoft’s size and capital, whether they are thinking eventually to use their own ARM implementations as the CPUs in their own servers. Since they know the performance profiles of the stuff they want to run. Given that, forget Qualcomm, and AMD for that matter.

      • chuckula
      • 3 years ago

      This is a relatively big announcement but Windows (server) support was never a requirement for ARM to gain a big chunk of the server market. Considering how big the Linux server market is and the (very) long time that ARM has had support in the Linux ecosystem, there really hasn’t been a software barrier that has prevented ARM from gaining a respectable chunk of the server market.

      • NTMBK
      • 3 years ago

      Have you considered that they might be struggling to supply 835s because they used all their wafers on high margin server parts?

    • raddude9
    • 3 years ago

    Interesting. I assume they’ll be using the ARM x86 emulator that they demonstrated here:

    [url<]https://techreport.com/news/31082/microsoft-makes-windows-10-run-on-arm-devices[/url<] Could be handy where a server relies on some legacy x86 components.

    • cmrcmk
    • 3 years ago

    I wonder if there is a broader goal at MS to become more ISA agnostic? Perhaps we’ll see Windows on Power8 or maybe Sparc? I’d love to see more mix and match between software platforms and hardware platforms, though I’m not sure if enough developers will put in the extra work to make that a reality. Also, until ESXi is available for these other ISAs, it’s DOA for a lot of companies.

      • UberGerbil
      • 3 years ago

      You’re aware that Microsoft already did that in the NT 3.x timeframe, when the OS was ported to Power (PowerPC), Alpha, and MIPS architectures. Obviously they’ve drifted a bit since, with nothing but x86 to concern themselves with, but the kernel at least is pretty agnostic (they stripped out a lot of Intel-specific stuff, like protection rings) and the architecture-specific machine code is well-segregated. And of course they’ve had Windows Phone to give them a reason to care about ARM for a while (even if nobody else cares about Windows Phone).

      Aside from an obvious move to make sure Windows Servers doesn’t become irrelevant if/when tech continents shift, the way Windows CE did when the iPhone came along, this is also a way to keep the Windows Phone team relevant even as the product itself fades into irrelevance. (Well, not the UI team but everybody else.)

        • willmore
        • 3 years ago

        NT also ran on ARM, IIRC.

        Too bad they lost their architecture indepent development ideology.

          • Anonymous Coward
          • 3 years ago

          Has everyone forgotten Itanium? 🙁

            • NTMBK
            • 3 years ago

            One can only hope.

            • willmore
            • 3 years ago

            Good catch!

    • NTMBK
    • 3 years ago

    *grabs popcorn*

    • R-Type
    • 3 years ago

    Not a single mention of AMD Opterons with ARM cores? Wow.

      • chuckula
      • 3 years ago

      AMD has basically shelved its ARM projects with the usual corporate-speak cover to the effect of “we’ll continue to evaluate options blah blah blah”.

      The fact that AMD has effectively [url=http://www.anandtech.com/show/11101/amd-files-patent-complaint-against-mediatek-lg-vizio<]sued ARM by proxy last month[/url<] (suing ARM graphics licensees who just paid for ARM IP and implemented it in their products) shows that AMD isn't living in fear of ARM's wrath.

        • wingless
        • 3 years ago

        If Ryzen continues to be successful, we could see that project spin back up this year. They better hop on this too.

          • chuckula
          • 3 years ago

          Wouldn’t you want AMD to concentrate its resources on the next RyZen iteration. Especially if the first one is a success? There’s a limited set of resources at AMD.

            • K-L-Waster
            • 3 years ago

            Agreed.

            AMD has proven with RyZen that they can become a credible player again in the x86 space. It seems reasonable to conclude that they *could* become credible in the ARM space as well. However, do they have the resources to do both? (Plus GPUs as well?)

            They should probably consolidate in x86 and GPUs and work down some of their debt load before entering yet another market.

            • Anovoca
            • 3 years ago

            I am sure AMD already has the next iteration (or two) already roadmapped out. R&D is typically 10 years ahead of the market for chip makers. All that said, I get your point. If they don’t already have their wheels spinning on something for this market, they will never get the traction to pull ahead in this race.

            • Anovoca
            • 3 years ago

            AMD finally brought a working Shelby GT to the Le Mans. Let’s see them rack up a few wins against Ferrari(intel) first before worrying about the GrandPrix.

            #continuingthemetaphor

            • K-L-Waster
            • 3 years ago

            Or:

            “AMD finally brought a working Shelby GT to the Le Mans. Let’s see them rack up a few wins against Ferrari(intel) first before worrying about taking on Ducatti at the Isle of Mann TT.”

            • Voldenuit
            • 3 years ago

            As long as they’re not bringing a P190E against Quattros.

    • chuckula
    • 3 years ago

    NAPLES SERVER CON… hey wait a minute.

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