December 19, 2013

Focus on Fedora 20 Features: ARM

It's been a long time coming, but the Fedora 20 "Heisenbug" release brings ARM to equal status in Fedora with x86 and x86_64 releases. The Fedora 20 release, out just more than a month after the 10th anniversary of the first Fedora release, now boasts ARM as a primary architecture.

It's not the first release to actually support ARM, but prior to Fedora 20 the ARM support was not considered a blocker for release or necessarily going to receive updates at the same time as its x86/x86_64 brethren.

Peter RobinsonPeter Robinson, one of the Fedora contributors who worked on ARM in this cycle, says that ARM support started all the way back in the Fedora 7 release cycle. Robinson says the work was "kickstarted by Marvell, taken over by Seneca and that over the last couple of releases it's been a small and dedicated team who've done the final push to get us over the line to primary."

Though it's a major step for ARM on Fedora, Robinson says ARM users were already seeing a quality release. "F-18/F-19 were pretty good and feature complete when secondary so in theory there shouldn't be too much actual change for the end users as it's been pretty mature and hence the reason we were promoted to primary." He also notes that Fedora has been "the lead in adoption and testing of the 'unified multi-platform kernel' which allows, like x86, a single kernel to run on hundreds of ARM devices."

Don't have an ARM device to test on? No worries, says Robinson. You can still run Fedora for ARM using standard virtualization tools (libvirt). "The Fedora Virt team, and in particular Cole Robinson has made it easier and faster to run ARM emulation on x86."

Why Does This Matter?

You might wonder what all the fuss is about when it comes to ARM processors. Most of the world's desktops and laptops are still running on x86/x86_64 processors. But you probably have a couple of ARM devices as well – your cell phone if you have a smartphone, and maybe a tablet or even a Chromebook that uses ARM instead of an Intel or AMD chip.

Robinson says that ARM will help bring Fedora to hundreds of new places "through cheap, almost disposable, hardware and that can only be a good thing, both for locations like the developing world, and for Fedora."

But it's not just cheap or disposable devices, ARM is starting to look like it might be important for servers too. Low power, high-density systems with lots of ARM chips may be a feature in a server room near you before too long.

Robinson says that "in many cases" the server feature set for ARM is "the same of that for our x86 brothers. We've got people testing all sorts of use cases like OpenShift on ARM."

The "big new feature," says Robinson, is "initial support for ARM virtualization on the ARM Cortex-A15. "

Crossing the Finish Line

How'd we get to the point of including ARM as a primary architecture for Fedora 20? Robinson says "lots and lots of QA, and wider testing as people became better aware" of ARM on Fedora. The fact that ARM was treated as a primary architecture in this release meant that package maintainers were seeing ARM-specific errors and dealing with them. Robinson says it's given the ARM team "more time to focus on polish."

So what's next for Fedora and ARM? Robinson says that users can expect "bigger and better hardware support, more optimization tweaking, and ongoing polish!"

Have an ARM device and want to try Fedora on it? Head over to the download page for ARM and grab the image that best suits your device and project. You can also check out the Fedora wiki for specific instructions for special ARM boards and devices.

Guest contributor Joe Brockmeier works on the Open Source & Standards team at Red Hat.

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