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Suse preps for ARM-ageddon: Piles up cans of 64-bit Linux code to feed server world

AArch64 build aimed at testing and development

Suse has made a version of its eponymous enterprise Linux distro available for hardware vendors who want to deliver products to market based on 64-bit ARM processors, in a new expansion of its partner program.

Suse Linux Enterprise 12 shipped for the x86-64, Power8, and IBM System z architectures in October 2014, and Tuesday saw the arrival of a new version of the operating system for ARM's AArch64 architecture, albeit only for development and testing, for now.

"Suse's ARM partner program will provide ARM ecosystem partners access to AArch64-supported Suse Linux Enterprise 12 software and expertise, establishing relationships that will result in supported enterprise solutions on different hardware platforms to meet a variety of customer needs," Suse engineering veep Ralf Flaxa said in a statement.

The company's ARM partner program launched with seven members, including chipmakers AMD, AppliedMicro, and Cavium, along with server vendors Dell, E4 Computer Engineering, HP, and SoftIron. It's a small group, but it's not as if vendors are stampeding into the ARM server market, as it's still very early days, yet.

Of the chipmakers, only AppliedMicro has ARM server silicon in production in the form of X-Gene. Its chips have popped up in low-volume server designs from HP and Mitac, albeit with limited sales success.

AMD, meanwhile, initially said it would get its "Seattle" ARM design, aka the Opteron A1100, into production in 2014. Getting off the ground has been trickier than it first thought, however, and now it doesn't expect to ship the chips in volume until the second half of 2015.

As for Cavium, it's been working with Gigabyte to get its ARM chips into actual servers, but it's not clear when we can expect them to hit the market. And even Qualcomm has said it wants a piece of the action, but we've heard precious little beyond that.

Part of the trouble has been that subtle differences in the various chip vendors' products have made it difficult for software developers to get their code running on everyone's hardware, something that partner programs like Suse's can help with.

Suse isn't the first to jump into the fray, though. Its rival Red Hat launched its own ARM partner program a year ago. In February, Red Hat announced that it had signed up more than 35 participating organizations, and the list includes most of those who are working with Suse now.

In addition to making Suse Linux Enterprise available to its ARM partners, Suse said it has also integrated support for AArch64 into its OpenSuse Build Service, which will allow the development community to build software against real 64-bit ARM hardware, even if they don't have direct access to any themselves.

If you're anticipating big data centers switching from x86-64 to AArch64, however, our advice is to not hold your breath just yet. ®

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