ARMv8-A, Cavium powering bare-metal servers

If someone offered to sell your business server-compute cycles for one-tenth the going price, you might think there was a catch. But in this case you’d be wrong.

Nathan Goulding is the senior vice president of engineering of bare metal server startup, Packet, and that’s precisely what he and his colleagues are offering thanks to ARMv8-A powered technology. packet-team-loves-hardware.jpg

“You can now provision hourly on-demand ARMv8 servers powered by 2 x 48 Cavium ThunderX SoCs (Cavium) on Packet,” Goulding (pictured far right) wrote in a recent Packet blog post. “We’re starting with our EWR1 home (New York metro), as well as Sunnyvale and Amsterdam. We’ll add in Tokyo in early December when the facility opens for production customers.”

The price? $0.50 per hour per server, or $0.005 per core per hour. (Yes, you’re reading that correctly).

Packet’s offerings are single-tenant bare metal servers rather than virtualized slices. They have started with Ubuntu 16.04 and CentOS 7, but have CoreOS and FreeBSD in the works, along with IoT-focused OS flavors. Four different ARM server configurations are also coming.

“Making a powerful, low-cost ARM compute node available to developers has been a dream of mine for years,” said Zachary Smith, Packet CEO (pictured center front, dark sport coat).

The ARMv8-A architecture powering Packet’s bare metal Type 2A is designed for high-density data center workloads for tasks such as container-based applications, data processing, threaded application workloads and network heavy functions including load balancing.

What do users want from bare metal?

Packet sees a number of use cases emerging from beta users. These includes docker containers and network applications such as load balancing, and it has thrown open its virtual doors for other suggestions from the community, Goulding notes.

Coincidentally, Packet received $9.4 million in Series A funding from SoftBank Group earlier this year. The company’s founders were impressed with the famously long-term vision often offered by SoftBank CEO and founder Masayoshi Son.

“SoftBank certainly isn’t your normal corporate venture arm, and we aren’t your normal venture investment, or so it seemed,” wrote Smith in a blog. “I guess you could say that the 300-year plan of SoftBank includes lots of computers doing lots of things, and they’re not all virtualized!”

Goulding writes that he and his team have been thinking about this type of design for some time.

“We’ve been asked several times for our thoughts related to ARM chips in the data center.  Well, we think it matters. Big time,” he said. “So much so that we’ve been hard at work on an ARMv8 server solution for nearly a year — well before Mr. Son flew to Turkey to make his first offer to acquire ARM Holdings!”

Related stories:

--Useful tips for developing secure software on ARMv8-M

--14 ARM-based server SKUs by Gigabyte and Cavium, CodeWeavers will introduce CrossOver (News roundup 19 July 2016)