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Fedora ARM head claims 64-bit ARM chips will be tipping point

June 11, 2012

Lawrence Latif | The Inquirer | 11 June 2012 | 17:14

Red Hat sits and waits
THE RED HAT sponsored Fedora Linux distribution believes a 64-bit ARM architecture will prove to be the tipping point for ARM servers.

The Fedora Project, which is heavily sponsored by enterprise Linux vendor Red Hat, has seemingly been lagging behind Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux distribution following a round of server announcements from Dell and HP professing certification for Ubuntu. However Jon Masters, principal software engineer at Red Hat and leader of Fedora’s ARM effort told The INQUIRER that 64-bit ARM chips will prove to be the killer feature for ARM-based servers.

Currently ARM chips use 32-bit addressing, though the firm introduced 40-bit addressing last year with the Cortex A15, but even being able to address 1TB of RAM won’t be enough to sell ARM servers, according to Masters. He told The INQUIRER that certain workloads require processors to access vast amounts of RAM, and 64-bit support will drive mainstream support for ARM chips in servers.

Masters said, “We look forward very much to having a 64-bit ARM Fedora offering in the not to distant future. […] Clearly the way the technology is heading we have an interim stage there, the [ARM Cortex] A15, has 40-bit physical addressing but it’s still 32-bit, [though] it can actually handle a terabyte of RAM. That’s going to make an interesting offering in the next year or two, and I think further out, but not too far out, the 64-bit stuff is I think when you’ll start to see mainstream ARM servers. And Fedora will support those when we get there.”

Canonical’s Ubuntu distribution has been mentioned in ARM server announcements by Dell and HP, making it seem like Fedora had been caught out by Canonical. However Masters said this wasn’t the case, with the Fedora project working on ARM support for the best part of two years.

Masters said, “We’ve gone from a point of being a little behind [Canonical] in terms of support in Fedora a couple of years back when the project started. We’re now at the point where we have a full package set available for ARM systems, I would say very, very comparable to the offering Canonical have. With the beta, it only applies to the Fedora 17 release, [but] we do have a shipping release of Fedora 15 available.”

Fedora, according to Masters, plans to make ARM a primary architecture for its Linux distribution, putting it level with x86 using 64-bit ARM chips.

“Fedora 17 ARM release will be out in a couple of weeks from now. It’s very close to the x86 release but it’s not at the same time, because ARM is the secondary architecture for Fedora. This means that it is not treated yet on par with x86, but that is certainly the ambition. I think you’ll find whether it’s in Fedora 18 or 19, or whatever point it happens, ARM will be on the same level as x86 in terms of its importance and relevence to the community.”

While the Fedora project is often seen as a testing ground for Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux, the project does considerable work to support relatively new technologies, and perhaps the biggest surprise is that it still treats ARM as a secondary architecture. Although Masters said the project wasn’t behind Ubuntu, there’s no doubt that Canonical has scored something of a victory with Dell and HP, even though the ARM server market is still far from taking off yet.

Masters’ faith in 64-bit ARM chips could be well placed if Red Hat’s many server customers have told the firm they will wait until then before jumping from x86 kit. However the difference for Red Hat might be that Canonical will be ready and waiting. µ…