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Shippable's Software "Assembly Line" Now Works on ARM Chips

Startup Shippable has ported its continuous integration/continuous delivery software development platform for ARM processors • The company expects more data centers to run ARM-powered servers in the future • The chip architecture that powers most of the world's smartphones is considered a lower-cost and lower-power alternative to x86 chips by Intel and AMD

There's another sign that ARM processors may be set to make deeper inroads into data centers if you've been looking for one.

Shippable, the five-year-old startup that markets a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) "assembly line platform for DevOps," announced today that its platform now works with code written for ARM CPUs and can run on ARM servers. The platform is available as a Software-as-a-Service offering or can be installed to run on-premises. It can also be spun up on the ARM version of Packet's bare metal cloud.

What's interesting is that Shippable isn't targeting developers for the Internet of Things or smartphones, ARM's typical base, but is betting that the reduced instruction set architecture is on its way to having a big impact in data centers.

"The hope is that ARM becomes a pretty solid alternative to x86-based architecture and more and more data centers start supporting ARM based servers," Avi Cavale, Shippable's co-founder and CEO, said in an interview with Data Center Knowledge. "The big cloud providers are starting to think of offering ARM-based machines, so what we really are trying to do is to get ahead of the curve. We believe it's not about whether it will, it's just about when it will."

While ARM CPUs are still primarily confined to powering mobile phones and IoT devices at the edge, the architecture has been slowly gaining traction in data centers. Their low cost (when compared to the dominating x86 chips from Intel and AMD) and low power requirements make them perfect for certain workloads. Almost all server manufacturers now offer ARM-based servers, and Windows Server, as well as most commercial Linux distributions, offer ARM flavors.

Still need convincing that ARM is well on its way to the data center? Early last year Microsoft announced it was working with ARM chipmakers Cavium and Qualcomm and said the architecture had the potential to eventually provide more than half of its cloud data center capacity. In June, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the Department of Energy announced that they were working on the largest ARM-based supercomputer ever, expected to be up and running by the end of the summer.

"There are a lot of benefits you can get by running ARM-based machines," Cavale said. "If you're running Kubernetes clusters, there's no reason to be paying the premium of running an x86 architecture. You could run on an ARM infrastructure, run Kubernetes on top of that, and your application is just any other container application that's running on Kubernetes."

The ARM version of the Shippable platform, which handles the entire development life cycle, should be useful to devs because software written for x86 machines usually won't run without fault on ARM processors out-of-the-box but requires tweaking in areas where the two architectures return different results. The platform will not only allow devs to run their software to find unexpected "gotchas" but will highlight code that is potentially problematic.

According to Cavale, building the ARM version of Shippable was made easier because the entire platform runs in containers, and Docker already runs on both x86 and ARM.

"There were two parts to it," he said. "One was building native ARM-based packages that are the Shippable components, and that was not that difficult. The second part was just making sure that the tool sets that the ARM folks use were all installed on our build images, so that they don't need to spend a ton of time prepping our image."

Shippable makes build images for different operating systems. "We do MacOS build images, we do Windows build images, and we do Ubuntu build images," he said. It now also has Ubuntu ARM64 and ARM32 images.

The new port of Shippable's platform was something of a joint effort that included ARM Holdings (the SoftBank-owned company that holds the rights to the architecture) and eventually Packet, Cavale said.

"ARM came to us and said there are all these customers who are building these applications, and they don't have a native way to do it, let's at least try to technically prove that it can be done. That's kind of how it started. Once we started working with ARM more closely, we realized that this is a big market, it could get even bigger, and nobody's addressing this problem."

Expecting ARM's rise in the data center and hearing that there were enough people building applications for the architecture gave Shippable the motivation it needed. "And we could actually do it with not too much complexity on our side," Cavale said.

The ARM-based platform launched today has already been battle-tested.

"We've been working with one of ARM's customers for the past six months, so basically it's not like we are putting something out there that we have not tested," he said. "I think it's going to be pretty good right from the get-go for pretty much anybody who uses it."

Use of Shippable is free for open source projects. For commercial projects, Shippable has a "Bring Your Own Node" freemium model, where the first node is free and subsequent nodes are $25 each.

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