Facebook, AMD, HP and others team up to plan the ARM data center takeover

In case you’ve been following Hurricane Sandy coverage as opposed to ARM’s (s armh) tech conference in Santa Clara, Calif., this week, the chip IP company had two significant announcements. First, it gave details and dates for its next-generation cores, and its licensees all decided to go gaga for servers.

And while the new A-50 cores ARM announced will be a step up for mobile devices (and those cores are 64-bit- and 32-bit-compatible, paving the way for ARM in more compute-intensive devices), the biggest news of the week was servers. Applied Micro said it would be building a new chip platform using the coming 64-bit cores, and AMD took a license for ARM cores with plans to launch ARM-based chips for servers in 2014. Dell even launched some ARM machines for processing big data right before the show.

So chipmakers and hardware vendors are buying into this ARM server idea, and with Facebook (s fb)and Amazon (s amzn) representatives onstage at the AMD event, it appears even IT buyers are willing to give cell phone chips in servers a try. But for smaller companies, the emerging ARM ecosystems will need software. Microsoft (s msft) has been half-hearted in its support for ARM-based chips (Windows RT supports it but Windows 8 doesn’t) and VMware’s (s vmw) CEO Pat Gelsinger (who used to work for Intel) has also scoffed at the ide a of ARM-based servers.

This is why Linaro, the open-source consortium created in 2010 to develop software for non-PC chips, has created a new program for building software for ARM-based servers. The consortium created a new program with lower fees and resource commitments that will bring teams from Facebook, HP (s hpq), AMD (s amd), Red Hat, Calxeda and more together to build firmware and other necessary software for ARM-based machines. Linaro unveiled the program Thursday.

Also on Thursday, Applied Micro, which says it will have 64-bit-capable ARM-based chips for servers in the first half of 2013 (ahead of pretty much everyone else who has shared release dates), showed of other software vendors who will support ARM. Applied Micro CEO Paramesh Gopi emailed me to say:

Oracle will be speaking at our session—Java is huge for the ARM 64-bit server push and truly rounds out the ecosystem. The discussions tomorrow will highlight that the ecosystem will be ready when silicon is ready. We announced Red Hat last week, Java is announcing this week and it is clear that the industry is moving to support 64-bit ARM for a new breed of cloud server.

These are big wins for ARM, and making sure there’s a software ecosystem ready for the hardware when it comes out will only help accelerate the platform. And as AMD’s John Williams, VP of server marketing and business development, told me after his company’s announcement on Monday, ARM isn’t going to displace x86 chips in the data center for all applications, it’s merely a new entrant that has an opportunity because the data center scale has changed as have the workloads running in those data centers.