Dell exec says costly software migrations may hold back ARM 64-bit chips

By Derek du Preez
14 Nov 2011 View Comments
ARM Mali T658 GPU

New chips based on ARM's 64-bit processing design may struggle to take on industry giants Intel and AMD due to the costs associated with migrating away from a traditional x86 architecture.

This is according to Steve Cumings, executive director at Dell, and Drew Schulke, marketing director of datacentre solutions at Dell.

Further reading

Last month, UK-based chip designer ARM released details of its new ARMv8 architecture, which for the first time will support 64-bit processing.

ARM has previously focused on 32-bit designs, which have dominated the mobile market. However, by moving into 64-bit chips, ARM is looking to support larger devices, such as servers, and is aligning itself with market leaders Intel and ARM.

ARM has been so successful in the mobile market because its chip designs are far more efficient on power consumption when compared with Intel or AMD.

Recent Q3 2011 data from market intelligence firm IDC on x86 server and workstation processor market trends give Intel a 95.1 per cent market share.

"We are certainly looking at the ARM market. In fact, we have had ARM-based servers running in our labs for the past couple of year because we think it is an interesting technology," said Cumings.

"We are also working with major ARM technology processor providers and we are talking to our customers about what they think," he added.

"On the one hand you have an extremely efficient processor with very low power consumption but, on the other, you will have to port your software over to this new environment. For that type of migration there has to be an overwhelming advantage," he said.

Cumings explained that companies will be wary about moving away from Intel's x86 instruction set, the platform on which its 64-bit chips are based, because it will require the recompiling of all software.

"Customers need to ask: what is the return on investment for us reworking our software to run on this, compared with the chips it currently run on?" agreed Schulke.

"What you are likely to see initially are a lot of green-field applications focusing on this technology initially. This is also likely to affect the rate of adoption, even if it is of compelling value," he concluded.

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