Despite the compatibility of Windows OS with ARM processors, Microsoft has yet to launch a Windows Server for ARM64. The reasons behind this decision remain undisclosed, even though Microsoft has been utilizing it internally for a considerable period. In 2017, Microsoft collaborated with Qualcomm and Cavium to facilitate the support of ARM-based server processors in data centers. However, this initiative did not progress as anticipated due to Qualcomm’s departure from the server business in 2018. With the recent acquisition of Nuvia, there are reports suggesting Qualcomm’s potential re-entry into the server processor market by 2024. Consequently, this could present an opportune moment for Microsoft to introduce Windows Server for ARM64.
The ARM Advantage
ARM64 architecture offers several advantages over traditional x86 architecture.
- Power Efficiency: Ampere’s optimized design in packing multi-cores on a single die enables ARM servers to operate as a highly energy-efficient system. They consume significantly less power than x86 processors2, making them ideal for cloud environments where conserving energy is crucial.
- Performance: ARM-based servers provide better performance per watt compared to traditional x86 architectures. They are suitable for general-purpose workloads as well as rapidly growing applications such as data analytics, mobile applications, machine learning inferencing, in-memory databases, web hosting, and cloud-native applications3.
- Scalability: ARM server processors are highly scalable, capable of handling a wide range of workloads – from lightweight web servers to high-performance computing (HPC) applications. This makes them well-suited for rapidly growing data center environments that require flexible hardware solutions2.
- Cost-Effectiveness: ARM processors generally come at a more affordable price than x86 processors.
- Fair and Open Licensing: ARM’s licensing model is fair and open, allowing other companies to create custom chips based on ARM architecture without starting from scratch. For example, Amazon has developed its own ARM-based server processor to offer better choice for its cloud customers.
The Azure Connection
The recent announcement of the general availability of Azure Virtual Machines featuring the Ampere Altra Arm–based processor indicates Microsoft’s commitment to the ARM platform. These new virtual machines have been engineered to efficiently run scale-out, cloud-native workloads. “Azure’s Ampere Altra Arm–based virtual machines represent a cost-effective and power-efficient option that does not compromise the level of performance that customers require,” said Paul Nash Vice President, Product, Azure Compute Infrastructure Platform.
The Developer Perspective
Microsoft has teamed up with Qualcomm to create a Windows on ARM-based dev kit for developers. This move encourages developers to create ARM64 apps for Snapdragon-based PCs, indicating a growing interest in the ARM platform. Also, native support for the Arm architecture is available in .Net 6 on both Windows and Linux. Native support for Windows on Arm64 is now also available for the .NET Framework starting with the recent 4.8.1 release for Windows 11 and with Visual Studio 2022 17.3.
The Bottom Line
Releasing Windows Server for ARM64 could open up new possibilities for developers and businesses alike.