Microsoft: No Windows Server for ARM

Despite Microsoft's enthusiasm for placing Windows 8 on ARM processors, Windows Server 8 will not have an ARM edition

While Microsoft is embracing the ARM processor architecture for its next Windows client operating system, Windows 8, the company has no immediate plans to develop an ARM-based version of its next Windows Server, the company executive in charge of Windows Server confirmed Wednesday.

This week at Microsoft's Build conference, being held in Anaheim, California, Bill Laing, Microsoft corporate vice president for the server and cloud division, demonstrated some of the new features of Windows Server 8. The next generation of the server operating system features new capabilities such as a revamped, command line-based PowerShell that will allow administrators to control multiple machines, and a new management console for blending in-house servers and cloud resources into a single view.

Unlike Windows 8, however, Windows Server 8 will not come in an ARM edition, Laing said. "The answer in the short term is no," Laing said, when asked if Microsoft is contemplating an ARM-based Windows Server.

The ARM processor has seen a revival in interest over the past few years, as more device manufacturers use the low-power processors to run mobile devices. And a few industry observers have speculated that the chip may also work well in data center environments as well, where it could save energy. ARM Holdings, which owns the architecture, is even investigating the possibility of ARM-based server chips.

But should such chips ever be produced, they may still need a Windows Server-based OS to run.

One immediate problem with porting Windows Server to ARM is that the OS was written for 64-bit processors, while the current ARM architecture is limited to 32-bit processing, Laing explained. Windows Server stopped offering 32-bit support with the Release 2 update to Windows Server 2008.

Beyond this show-stopper of a problem, one reason for not porting the software is that there would be little benefit in running Windows Server on ARM, Laing added. Server-based ARM might initially look like an easy way to cut server power usage, but it would have only a minimal impact on energy usage.

"On a server, the chip is only one part of the power consumption," he said. The motherboard, memory, network controllers and other components all consume power as well. "Even if you dramatically drop the power requirement [of the chip] there are definitely some other power requirements," he said.

Laing would not say that Microsoft would never consider developing an ARM-based version of Windows Server, but he said the company has no immediate plans for doing so now.

Microsoft had been developing Windows Server 8 for about three years, Laing said. It had a broad set of goals to reach with this release, such as cloud compatibility and automation of routine tasks across multiple machines. "No longer does a server run on a single machine," he said.

Laing assigned engineers not to develop specific technologies, but rather to solve common problems that may cover a range of technologies, such as moving virtual machines from server to server without any downtime. "We tied all the pieces together, so we would have a more consistent release," he said.

The new release also benefits from Microsoft's work building out its own Azure cloud service, he explained. Many technologies developed for the server were tested in the cloud, and many technologies developed for Azure were then imported back to the server.

"Historically, there has been a separation between people who developed applications and the people who operated in the data center," he said. "We tried to keep a tight feedback [loop] between the two, to share the technology."

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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