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A server running Qualcomm Centriq ARM processors. (Microsoft Image)

Microsoft has started testing out ARM processors, power-efficient chips best known for running smartphones and other mobile devices, to run portions of its cloud services and applications, the company said this morning.

At the Open Compute Project Summit today, ARM chipmaker Qualcomm and Microsoft are expected to give a public demonstration of Windows Server powered by a Qualcomm Centriq 2400 processor. This technology is internal to Microsoft for now, but Qualcomm says the goal is to enable “a variety of cloud workloads to run on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.”

Bloomberg News sees the use of ARM chips as “potentially imperiling Intel Corp.’s longtime dominance in the profitable market for data-center processors.”

It’s the latest step in Microsoft’s open-source Project Olympus, in which the company is sharing hardware designs to be downloaded and improved by the engineering community. Microsoft did announce that it’s also collaborating with Intel, Nvidia and others on Project Olympus.

Leendert van Doorn, a Microsoft distinguished engineer, described the ARM initiatives in this blog post.

We have been working closely with multiple ARM suppliers, including Qualcomm and Cavium, on optimizing their hardware for our datacenter needs. One of the biggest hurdles to enable ARM servers is the software. Rather than trying to port every one of our many software components, we looked at where ARM servers are applicable and where they provide value to us. We found that they provide the most value for our cloud services, specifically our internal cloud applications such as search and indexing, storage, databases, big data and machine learning. These workloads all benefit from high-throughput computing.

To enable these cloud services, we’ve ported a version of Windows Server, for our internal use only, to run on ARM architecture. We have ported language runtime systems and middleware components, and we have ported and evaluated applications, often running these workloads side-by-side with production workloads.

PREVIOUSLY: Microsoft to share early-stage server hardware designs in ‘unprecedented’ open-source initiative

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