Announced yesterday, ARM unveiled its new 64-bit ARMv8 architecture, following on from the current 32-bit ARMv7 designs found in today's Cortex-A9 and tomorrow's Cortex-A15 processors.
ARM has already made strong moves towards the server market with its Cortex-A15 processor by offering full hardware virtualisation support. These chips are ideal in web 2.0 servers that are usually formed from lots of smaller racks running in a virtualized environment.
It makes a lot of sense for ARM to enter this market because its chips are typically low in cost and exceptionally power-efficient - something that's particularly pertinent as power consumption is the largest and ongoing costing factor when running big datacentres.
Start-up firm SeaMicro also toyed with this idea, where it placed 512 energy-efficient Intel Atom cores into a low-power server; Intel has also been investigating such an approach in its own laboratories.
ARM has taken its plans a step further today by announcing support for the 64-bit instruction-set, which will enable devices to address more than 4GB of RAM and more than 1TB of storage. The new architecture will have two primary states of execution, AArch64 and AArch32, with the latter providing backwards compatibility for the ARMv7 instruction-set and all of the key features found on the Cortex-A15, to ensure a clear development pathway.
ARM is claiming that this new architecture will offer "innovative and energy-efficient solutions to 64-bit processing markets" and both Microsoft and NVIDIA seem to agree, also releasing positive statements in regards to the announcement.
Microsoft General Manager, KD Hallman:
"ARM is an important partner for Microsoft, the evolution of ARM to support a 64-bit architecture is a significant development for ARM and for the ARM ecosystem. We look forward to witnessing this technology's potential to enhance future ARM-based solutions."
NVIDIA Senior Vice President Dan Vivoli:
“The combination of NVIDIA’s leadership in energy-efficient, high-performance processing and the new ARMv8 architecture will enable game-shifting breakthroughs in devices across the full range of computing – from smartphones through to supercomputers,”.
Certainly we expect ARM's client-base to be very interested in the prospect of entering the server market, which is an an area that has traditionally been reserved for IBM, Intel, Oracle and AMD. ARM's licensing structure could make way for some very interesting changes, meanwhile, as any company may license these designs, for the right price, of course.
Expect more details throughout 2012, with ARM suggesting that we'll see prototype systems in 2014.