Red Hat has launched a developer preview of Enterprise Linux Server operating system developed specifically for 64-bit ARM architecture.

The release is based on RHEL 7.1 and offers a complete feature set, but comes without any support. Red Hat hopes its software will pave the way towards broader adoption of ARM in the data center, as more server hardware is released in the next 12 months.

The announcement was made at the Red Hat Summit in Boston last week.

ARM-based chips in development
ARM-based chips in development – TSMC

Fresh code

Servers based on ARM architecture consume less power and require less cooling than their x86 counterparts. They are cheaper to operate and offer different performance characteristics – a typical ARM SoC includes more cores clocked at lower rates than a typical x86 CPU from Intel. This makes them suitable for specific workloads, for example serving web content.

Despite clear benefits of this approach, the advent of ARM in the data center has suffered repeated setbacks. Calxeda announced an ARM-powered server way back in 2011 but went bust in 2013, and AMD has delayed its 64-bit Opteron A1100 by at least a year, until the end of 2015. Today, the choice of server-grade ARM silicon is limited to Applied Micro’s X-Gene and Cavium’s ThunderX.

Red Hat believes the architecture has plenty of potential, but needs more software to truly challenge x86. In July 2014, the company launched the Red Hat ARM Partner Early Access Program – an initiative which now includes more than 40 members like AMD, Applied Micro, Broadcom and Cavium.

Nearly a year later, Early Access Program participants have finally gained access to a new version of the Red Hat OS adopted for 64-bit ARM v8-A architecture.

Red Hat previously said it will provide interested parties with early stage documentation and tools to accelerate the development work.