Crossing the Chasm

As many of the regular Arm Server community members already know, there is a huge discrepancy between the small, cheap, fun, “toys” known as Single Board Computers, and the enterprise-grade, standards-compliant Arm Servers that are meant to be racked and deployed in datacenters. And in the middle exists…nothing much. There have been some attempts over the years such as the SoftIron Overdrive 1000, the 96Boards Developer Box, and few other specialty (read: expensive) adaptations of server parts, but for the most part, the relatively cheap, standards-compliant Arm developer machine landscape has been barren.

As a result of this missing puzzle piece, Arm Server adoption has lagged behind industry and Arm’s own projections. Rewinding 5 years, in 2015 Arm predicted they would have a 20% market share in the Datacenter. Now here we are in 2020, and that clearly hasn’t come to fruition.

If the middle-ground is going to remain mostly empty, then we as a community need to focus on a different task: Showing the SBC makers how to build a standards-compliant system, and steer them towards making Arm boards that “just work” with any OS, boot in a fashion similar to what developers already know and understand (UEFI / ACPI), and act like an x86 machine. It shouldn’t take an Arm Engineer to boot an Arm board.

Then, once the SBC makers are nudged in this direction, two things can occur. First, more developers can begin the process of building software that is Arm compatible and a first class citizen on Arm Servers. Second, once individual developers get accustomed to using Arm SBC’s for coding, they’ll want something a bit more powerful…creating more demand for that mid-tier Arm “PC” class device.

And coming full circle, that means, it’s time to make the Raspberry Pi 4 ServerReady, to show people it can be done, and jumpstart this process.