Microsoft may release Windows Server for ARM processors -- a move that could optimize the operating system for more power efficient data centers and perhaps even Big Data applications. The twist: Microsoft has yet to confirm the report, and similar rumors have swirled around the IT industry since around 2011.

Back in the 1990s, Windows Server's predecessor (Windows NT Server) ran on Intel x86 processors and three RISC processors: Digital Alpha, MIPS and PowerPC. But those NT for RISC offerings never gained critical mass, and Microsoft in the late 1990s discontinued RISC support -- repositioning Windows NT for x86 processors from Intel and AMD.

Fast forward to the present. Intel's chip design dominates the server market, but ARM processors are widely used in tablets and mobile devices. Now, some server vendors are trying to make ARM a widely available option for higher-end web applications.

A report from Bloomberg suggests that Microsoft and ARM Holdings are working to optimize Windows Server onto ARM hardware. Bloomberg said Microsoft and ARM declined to comment about the alleged work. Similar Windows Server for ARM rumors have surfaced multiple times, dating back to 2011.

ARM Servers Near Tipping Point? 

Why might the rumors be true this time around? For starters, some server companies -- most notably HP -- have announced or introduced ARM-based servers. Moreover, proponents claim their ARM-based servers consume less power and scale better for modern Big Data applications.

For instance, HP in September 2014 started shipping Moonshot servers with Applied Micro’s ARM-based X-Gene system-on-chip. The server targets customers running web caching applications such as memecache, as well as high performance computing workloads that require high throughput, according to PC World.

Still, ARM servers haven't quite gone mainstream. Calxeda, an early ARM server proponent, went out of business before the market gained traction. Plus, many server database and application developers have yet to release their wares on ARM -- mostly because the x86 server market remains a massive industry -- and therefore a safer bet.

All that said, Microsoft might sense that ARM servers are nearing a tipping point -- especially since ARM-equipped Moonshot servers are finally out the door. Plus, new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has shown an openminded approach to IT -- breaking with old traditions if it means new wins for Microsoft and its customers.

In early October 2014, MKM Partners -- an analyst firm -- said ARM server competition was "imminent" but not there yet. By "imminent," did MKM Partners mean "Microsoft?"

Information Management will be watching.

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