Microsoft Windows Server ARM port rumoured

October 28, 2014 // 11:18 a.m.

Tags: #arm #data-centre #instruction-set #intel #linux #microsoft #monopoly #server #windows-81 #windows-rt #windows-server #wintel

Microsoft is reportedly working on porting its Windows Server platform to ARM processors, suggesting the company has faith that the low-power architecture will prove a hit in the data centre.

Microsoft has long had a fruitful partnership with chip-maker Intel. In the 90s, the pair was known as 'WinTel' for the virtual monopoly the Windows software and Intel processor pairing held over the desktop and laptop PC market. Today, that monopoly has barely shifted but there have been suggestions that Microsoft is flirting with other chip-makers: Windows 8 launched alongside Windows RT, a tablet-centric version of the operating system designed to run on devices based on the ARM instruction set architecture.

To say Windows RT wasn't successful is not over-egging the pudding: while Microsoft won some initial licensees, these quickly dissolved in favour of producing tablet and convertible devices running Intel chips and the full-fat Windows 8.1 platform. Even Microsoft has spent more time and effort advertising its Surface Pro range of Intel-based tablets than its Surface - formerly known as Surface RT - ARM-based alternatives.

That doesn't appear to have put the company off an ARM partnership, however. Business paper Bloomberg cites 'people familiar with its plans' as stating that Microsoft is working to bring its Windows Server platform to the ARM architecture for the first time, using the work it did on Windows RT as a springboard. If true, that's a major vote of confidence for the future of the ARM architecture in the data centre.

There has been considerable interest in using ARM in server environments since the Cambridge-based company announced the 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set architecture. While not capable of beating Intel's top-end Xeon chips in raw horsepower, ARMv8 processors promise more cores in a given power envelope - meaning they're ideally suited to the highly-concurrent tasks you would find in a web or cloud data centre. Nvidia and Hewelett Packard have been working on processors for exactly this task, and long-time Intel rival AMD has its own family of ARM-based Opteron chips for the market.

At present, those wishing to use ARM in the data centre are limited to using Linux and related POSIX-compliant operating systems - not exactly a hardship, given they hold the majority share of the server market. A Windows Server ARM port would offer more choice and give customers with existing Windows farms a route to the new architecture - something that may concern Intel.

Neither ARM nor Microsoft have commented on the rumours, with at least one of the anonymous sources suggesting that while the port is already functional Microsoft has yet to device whether it will bring it to market and threaten its special relationship with Intel.
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