ARM’s Insights into Server Systems and Ecosystem

As we gear up for Samsung’s second annual CIO Forum on Nov. 1, I had an exciting opportunity to speak with Ian Ferguson, Director of Server Systems and Ecosystem at ARM and CIO Forum panelist. ARM is a semiconductor and intellectual property (IP) company that works closely with semiconductor manufacturers and OEMs, including Samsung. ARM has played a critical role in optimizing IT environments through software solutions, and will be present at the CIO Forum to talk through its efforts.

At ARM, Ian is responsible for defining and implementing the strategy to open up the data center/server segment to ARM technology. His team engages with all aspects of the server value chain globally, from end users to semiconductor companies. With over 22 years’ experience in engineering, marketing and sales, Ian will bring a unique expert perspective to the CIO Forum.

Ian gave us an exclusive look into ARM’s IT efficiency strategies, and shared his thoughts on the future of the server ecosystem in advance of the CIO Forum. Read more about recent ARM server developments in Ian’s blog.

 Q&A with Ian Ferguson

Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s CIO Forum? 

A: This is ARM’s first involvement in Samsung’s CIO Forum, so we are simply delighted to be involved with an audience that ARM is not normally talking to directly.  Effectively, much of this audience can be regarded as ARM’s customers’ customers’ customers. Feedback from this group is critical to shaping future investments in the software ecosystem. Rather than replacing incumbent architectures with an ARM processor, we are looking at a new class of client and server platforms that utilize the power efficiency of our processors, as well as a business model that empowers innovation. I see this as a great venue for identifying companies that align with our disruptive way of thinking. 

Q: Based on your expertise as Director of Server Systems and Ecosystem, can you briefly describe the key challenges faced by IT managers today?

 A: I see three. There is the need to keep the network secure and to protect a company’s assets from malicious or unintentional attack. There is the need to effectively manage a company’s network as a company scales up (or down) both from the people and location perspectives. And there is the challenge of infrastructure cost, with the cost of power becoming an increasingly important factor. What excite me are the new technologies that are arising that offer significant (as opposed to incremental) improvement, for example:

1)     Replacing traditional laptop/desktops with tablets or smartphones: the “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon

2)     Utilizing cloud services for some/all of the IT infrastructure

3)     Employing new types of cost, space and power-efficient servers

Q: In your opinion, how has the rise of cloud computing impacted server architecture?

A: For companies developing businesses based on web infrastructure, the server IS the business. These companies have honed their software and hardware strategies to enable quick adoption of technologies that drive down system acquisition costs or running costs. Increased use of open source software on a Linux platform reduces the legacy ties to incumbent server platforms and paves the way for more innovation. Companies are now making decisions on system technologies based on metrics like performance (on the user application) / watt / $ or performance / watt / foot3, as opposed to the pure performance. Many server applications are IO limited, with relatively modest computing requirements, which is the area where ARM is focused. But ARM technology is only a piece of the solution. This is where we see innovative networking technology and memory, like green memory and SSDs, combining to meaningfully improve those system metrics.

Q: What kinds of initiatives has ARM undertaken to optimize efficiency in IT environments?

A: ARM does not make chips. Developing highly integrated silicon devices is the expertise of our silicon partners such as Samsung. ARM’s role is to foster the ecosystem that will enable ARM-powered computing platforms, whether those are client devices or servers, to flourish. Fundamentally, this comes down to software. ARM works closely with operating system vendors like Microsoft, Google and Canonical to ensure software optimizations exist for the ARM architecture. ARM has worked very closely with Oracle to deliver a performance optimized Java compiler (an increasing number of server applications are being written in high level languages to increase portability) and application stacks like OpenStack.

Q: How do you see the server ecosystem evolving in the next few years, and what can IT managers do to prepare?

A: ARM sees these data centers as energy constrained systems. ARM has a lot of experience in energy constrained systems, given its history in the mobile phone market. Admittedly, the size of the power envelope is radically different on those two applications, but ARM believes that the same types of solutions will emerge; namely optimized-for-purpose system-on-chip (SoC) devices featuring a high degree of integration and including functional blocks that accelerate specific server functions.

Be sure to check out the panel, “Techniques for Driving the Optimizing of Big Data” at the CIO Forum, as Ian speaks alongside industry experts Jason Taylor, Director of Capacity Engineering and Analysis at Facebook, Slyvie Kadivar, Director of Strategic DRAM Marketing at Samsung Semiconductor, and Billy Bosworth, CEO of DataStax.

If you haven’t already, request to attend the CIO Forum today, as seating is limited!

What other ways do you think companies can collaborate to optimize efficiency in IT environments? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.