Microsoft’s announcement that it is launching its own first-party hardware for a family of Windows tablets is welcome news: If you want a job done right, do it yourself. While Asus, Lenovo, Nokia, Samsung, and Toshiba are expected to launch their own Windows RT products this year, other major OEMs are notably absent from the list, either because they’re focused on x86 devices first or because they were locked out of the launch like HTC. Microsoft's Surface tablets will run on both chipsets.
Microsoft has so many assets to bring to its own hardware: Smartglass, a “Kinect camera,” Skype, Barnes & Noble Nook content, Microsoft Office (although that won’t be exclusive to Windows), just to name a few. While skeptics rightly criticize past Microsoft hardware failures like the Zune player, Xbox is a more recent example of resounding success. With the next generation of the Xbox “720” due out soon, Microsoft will have ample opportunity to bundle and promote the two products together and sell its tablets through the same consumer retail channels — although to start at least, the Surfaces will only be available at Microsoft Stores and online, which certainly limits adoption potential.
This product line marks a crucial pivot in Microsoft’s product strategy. It blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise. And it lets Microsoft compete with vertically integrated Apple on more even ground.
Earlier this week Dell joined arch-competitor HP in endorsing ARM as a potential platform for scale-out workloads by announcing “Copper,” an ARM-based version of its PowerEdge-C dense server product line. Dell’s announcement and positioning, while a little less high-profile than HP’s February announcement, is intended to serve the same purpose — to enable an ARM ecosystem by providing a platform for exploring ARM workloads and to gain a visible presence in the event that it begins to take off.
Dell’s platform is based on a four-core Marvell ARM V7 SOC implementation, which it claims is somewhat higher performance than the Calxeda part, although drawing more power, at 15W per node (including RAM and local disk). The server uses the PowerEdge-C form factor of 12 vertically mounted server modules in a 3U enclosure, each with four server nodes on them for a total of 48 servers/192 cores in a 3U enclosure. In a departure from other PowerEdge-C products, the Copper server has integrated L2 network connectivity spanning all servers, so that the unit will be able to serve as a low-cost test bed for clustered applications without external switches.
Dell is offering this server to selected customers, not as a GA product, along with open source versions of the LAMP stack, Crowbar, and Hadoop. Currently Cannonical is supplying Ubuntu for ARM servers, and Dell is actively working with other partners. Dell expects to see OpenStack available for demos in May, and there is an active Fedora project underway as well.