OpenStack is opening up opportunities for a whole new array of cloud platforms. This week, several OpenStack community members have announced the launch of the first ARM-powered cloud platform, which is currently being tested through the TryStack sandbox implementation.

Why ARM?

While most cloud platforms today are powered by Intel-based architectures, the ARM platform dominates in mobile devices, and powers the Apple iPhone, iPad and most Android smartphones and tablets used in the consumer and enterprise market. ARM has the advantage of being more power-efficient due to its reduced instruction set architecture.

Mark Collier, vice president of marketing and business development at OpenStack says the "explosion of apps" is creating resource concerns in datacenters, and service providers will need to address these in a more creative way than simply increasing computing horsepower. "ARM-powered OpenStack clouds attack these problems in a fundamental way, by combining a radically more efficient chip architecture with the flexible OpenStack cloud operating system designed to manage them at scale," Collier said.

With this in mind, the community-run TryStack cloud deployment is offering the opportunity to test cloud setups in both x86 and ARM-powered architectures, through an x86 zone and ARM zone. Both currently run the latest OpenStack Essex release, and the facility is powered by hardware from Calxeda, Canonical and HP, with datacenter space provided by CoreNAP. Other participants in the TryStack collaboration include Rackspace, Dell, Equinix, HP and NTT.

One Small Step for ARM ...

Wired says this is a "small but important step" that might eventually challenge Intel's dominance in the cloud infrastructure business. ARM chips are excellent on smartphones and other mobile devices with their energy efficiency, but are traditionally unable to handle large amounts of load and memory required in datacenter applications. With the latest ARM designs, though, cloud applications are becoming more viable.

However, software has to be rewritten and tested on the different architecture, which is why the dual-architecture TryStack initiative is important for developers in experimenting and tweaking their programs to see how they fare in this different platform.

"The ARM technology-powered OpenStack cloud zone in TryStack provides free and easy access to explore and test workloads on the latest generation of ultra-low power servers," said Ian Ferguson, ARM director of server systems and ecosystems. After testing and exploring OpenStack through the TryStack testbed, users can then deploy their own OpenStack implementations through Linux distros and other commercial offerings from OpenStack partners.

OpenStack initiator Rackspace will be switching its codebase to Openstack starting this August. Meanwhile, Dell is planning to launch its own ARM testbed within the year, while it develops its own 48-processor ARM server codenamed "Copper." The company is reportedly planning to grow its ecosystem around ARM chips.