Let’s face it: Mac usage is increasing within business environments, and the days of IT departments telling users that they’re unsupported if they purchase a computer with an Apple logo are dwindling.
The board of Calxeda, the company trying to bring low-power ARM CPUs to the server market, has voted to cease operations in the wake of a failed round of financing. This is completely unsurprising to me, for a few different reasons.
Virtualization is more suited to the needs of IT
Calxeda’s view of the world competed directly with server virtualization in many ways. Take HP’s Project Moonshot as an example. It is a chassis with hundreds of small ARM-based servers inside it, each provisioned individually or in groups, but with small amounts of memory and disk. The problem is that this sort of model is complicated, fragile, inflexible, and not standards-based. At the end of the day, organizations want none of these things. Calxeda’s solution may save an enterprise money by consuming less power, but it spends that money with increased OpEx elsewhere. In contrast, virtualization of larger, more powerful CPUs is more flexible on nearly every level, reduces the amount of hardware an enterprise must manage, and can help contain both capital and operational expenses while solving actual problems.
There are diminishing performance returns in extreme multi-core applications
Originally stated to convey the increasing value of a network as more nodes joined, another way Metcalfe’s Law can be expressed is that the communications overhead in a network grows as the square of the number of nodes in that network. This is also true in multi-threaded applications, where the amount of interprocess communication, locking, and other administrative work to coordinate hundreds of threads ends up consuming more CPU time than the actual computational work. Calxeda’s vision of hundreds of CPU cores in a single system was ambitious, and needed computer science and the whole industry to catch up to it. Enterprises don’t want research projects, so they choose fewer, faster cores and got their work done.
A limited enterprise market for non-x64 architectures
ARM isn’t x86/x64, so while there are increasing numbers of ARM-based Linux OS distributions, mostly thanks to the immense popularity of hobbyist ARM boards like Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBoard, none are commercially supported, which is a prerequisite for enterprises. On the Windows side there is Windows RT, which runs on 32-bit ARM CPUs, but it is generally regarded as lacking features and underpowered compared to other Atom-powered x86 devices that run full installations of Windows 8. Windows RT isn’t a server OS, either, and there is very little third-party software for it due to the complexity of developing for the platform and the lack of ROI for a developer’s time and money. Why put up with all the complexity and limitations of a different architecture when you can get a low-power x86-compatible Atom CPU and a real version of Windows?
A limited market for 32-bit CPUs
On the server front, which is what Calxeda was targeting, enterprises have been consuming 64-bit architectures since the release of AMD’s Opteron CPUs in 2003. Ten years later, the idea of using 32-bit CPUs seems incredibly backward. Even embedded systems want to have more than 4 GB of RAM on them, which is the maximum possible on 32-bit CPUs. On the mobile front, where ARM has had the most impact, Dan Lyons has a recent article about how Apple’s 64-bit A7 chip has mobile CPU vendors in a panic. Now, in order to compete with Apple, a handset maker wants a 64-bit chipset. Calxeda had a 64-bit CPU in the works, but it’s too far out to be useful in either market.
I’ve never really seen the point behind the “more smaller machines” movement, and I’m interpreting the end of Calxeda as evidence supporting my position. I’m sure there are specialized cases out there that make sense for these architectures, but the extreme limitations of the platform are just too much in the x64-dominated world of IT. In the end, Calxeda focused too tightly on specific problems, and in doing so ignored both the larger problems of the enterprise and the changes in the computing landscape that ultimately made them irrelevant.
Desktop security start-up Bromium announced the general availability of vSentry, at the Gartner Security and Risk Management management Summit in London today. Their first product to be based on the Bromium Microvisor designed to protect from advanced malware that attacks the enterprise through poisoned attachments, documents and websites.
There has been quite a lot of twitter traffic about the FrankenCloud recently: A cloud with more than one type of hypervisor underneath it. One example, is to build a cloud using Hyper-V three and vSphere, both managed through Microsoft System Center. Another example, is to build a cloud using Hyper-V, KVM, and vSphere all managed through HotLink. But is this a desired cloud topology? Continue reading Enter the FrankenCloud: Or Do we really care about the Hypervisor?
One year after announcing that he and XenSource co-founder Ian Pratt were leaving Citrix to launch Bromium with former Pheonix Technologies CTO Gaurav Banga; Simon Crosby was back at the GigaOM Structure conference in San Francisco today to unveil Bromium’s micro-virtualization technology together with its plans to transform enterprise endpoint security. Bromium, despite the occasional blog post calling into question the security limitations of current desktop virtualization solutions and despite today’s announcement of the Bromium Microvisor, has very little to do with desktop virtualization. Desktop virtualization whether it be VDI, or IDV or anything in between, is a management technology, a means of getting an appropriately specified endpoint configuration in front of the user. Bromium has set itself a bigger challenge, one that is applicable to every endpoint and every operating system – the extension of the precepts of trustworthy computing to mainstream operating systems. Continue reading Bromium unveils micro-virtualization trustworthy security vision
Apple unveiled the latest iCloud iteration at it’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco yesterday, beefing up the the fledgling service with new features that show for the first time that it too understands what post-PC means. Continue reading Apple Joins the post-PC Revolution