Packet just announced an interesting partnership with ARM to launch Works on ARM. Basically, the partnership is based around expanding support for Armv8 processors in the data center.
If you’re not familiar with Packet, they have an interesting take on cloud computing. They take the typical cloud consumption model, offering hourly and monthly pricing, but instead of offering virtualized cores, give you bare metal resources. When i first looked at the company, it took a while for this to sink in, but it makes a pretty big difference. Unlike most other cloud providers, they aren’t interested in selling you services on top of this, they just want to rent you some bare metal compute.
What makes this even more interesting is how they bundle their bare metal cloud. Since these aren’t virtualized cores, you actually get to choose from physical CPU types. These range on the lowest end from a quad-core C2550 Intel Atom to 16-core E5-2640 v3 Xeons. Since you’re literally buying access to bare metal servers, this does come at the price of a little flexibility. You’re locked in to a certain amount of RAM, storage, and compute with each tier. But they seem to have catered each tier to be flexible for many needs.
But as the announcement indicated, Packet doesn’t stop with Intel CPUs. They also have a tier offering a server with dual Cavium ThunderX CPUs, which offer 96 2GHz Armv8 cores. The company has been offering this for a little while. Their partnership with ARM expands on it.
In the announcement post, Packet Special Project Manager Ed Vielmetti says the partnership is a bet on further specialization within the data center. He points to specialized hardware for TensorFlow and Microsoft’s Project Brainwave FPGAs. With the wide array of ARM designs out there, it only makes sense to lean into that versatility.
As part of the Works on ARM project, Packet will work with Cavium and Qualcomm to better optimize ARM for the data center. To be honest the details are a little vague, other than to say they are working on it. It’s a little interesting who isn’t included in that group. Samsung’s Exynos CPUs aren’t exactly explicitly data center focused (not that it’s stopped companies like Kaleao from using them), but they’re a big enough player that their absence is notable. More glaring is the lack of AppliedMicro, who’s been beating the ARM server drum with their X-Gene platform for a few years now. It’ll be interesting to see if they join the project somewhere down the line.
In practical terms, Packet will be opening 100 servers to various groups for testing and CI/CD. They’re also partnering with Elastic (analytics), Open Faas, and Hyper.sh (serverless platforms) to “encourage adoption”. ARM as the basis for a serverless platform makes a lot of sense. A company like Hyper.sh that offers per second billing on containers. It shows that ARM is concerned not just for enterprise apps, but for the services that will make operations feasible as well.
Packet offering bare metal ARM servers is novel enough, but announcing continuing partnership with ARM makes them a company to keep an eye on. Obviously enterprise ARM platforms are still mostly academic, but Packet looks to be putting in the hard work to make them feasible.
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