There was a time when x86 was the only major chip architecture Linux vendor Red Hat cared about. That time has now come to an end as the Linux giant is now taking a serious look at ARM.
"ARM is looking increasingly promising," Tim Burke, VP of Linux Engineering at Red Hat, told ServerWatch in an interview. "Our focus is ARM in the server marketplace, so we're really not looking to be a handheld type of play."
The Red Hat-sponsored Fedora Linux project already has a full-fledged ARM effort. Fedora 17 is now available to run on ARM, and there is a sizable team working on its development.
Burke noted that he has developers not just working on the basic port but also working on the universe of packages that will be required, including the OpenJDK Java packages. He added that there are a lot of package cleanups that are required to get applications ready for ARM.
Another key area is device discovery. Burke explained that in the x86 world there was a more common motherboard.
"Historically, ARM has not been that standardized and there has been a lot more custom work in terms of the hardware providers," Burke said. "It has not been possible to have one kernel that works on all the different ARM server variants."
Red Hat is working together with the Linaro ARM community in an effort to build a common Linux kernel that will work across different ARM implementations. Burke stressed that it's important to have a standardized kernel in order to make it possible for software vendors to be able to certify against.
Interest in ARM has grown in recent years as large server vendors have started to enter the market. HP, in partnership with ARM vendor Calxeda, is among the vendors helping to lead the charge. ARM offers the promise of increased scale-out performance and density, while operating at lower power utilization rates.
From a resource perspective, Burke said that Red Hat is working with a wide diversity of players in the ARM space. The initial goal is to make sure the Fedora ARM port is working as it should.
On the personnel side, Burke is also providing resources to the ARM effort, though it is difficult to attach numbers.
"It's hard to do head count accounting because it's bits and pieces of dozens of people that are involved in the effort," Burke said. "It's not a joke; it's a real serious effort that we have on our part to make sure that Fedora is well prepared for ARM."
Watch the full interview below: