Facebook PHP engine eyeing move to ARM server chips

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Facebook sends a friend request to ARM

Social media giant Facebook appears to have taken measures towards running its production workloads on ARM-powered servers. The move spells double trouble for market leader Intel, as Google has also announced similar intentions.

A post on the Hip Hop Virtual Machine (HHVM) blog on Thursday indicated that the team there is implementing ARM processor support into its translation engine. It is this engine that turns Facebook's PHP code into 64-bit x86 instructions.

The HHVM is also Facebook's crucial unit used for running its gargantuan social network – which is mainly based on PHP.

"Two to three years"

"It's been crucial to get HHVM running on ARM processors, isolating and reducing the amount of architecture-specific code we need to reimplement," the post read. It came on the same day that Bloomberg claimed Google was planning a similar shift to ARM-driven servers.

A post has also appeared on the Facebook careers website for an ARM server software engineer. "We aim to evaluate further improving the efficiency of our web tier by porting HHVM to new server hardware platforms based on the power-efficient ARM," the listing states. Facebook was asked back in 2012 if it was planning a broad shift to non-x86 chips, and answered that it was not 'a question of if, but when'.

This shift to ARM architecture may still take some time to implement. At the Linaro Connect Conference in October, Facebook technology strategist Vijay Rao said: "We definitely feel it's going to take at least two to three years before the ARM ecosystem as well as ARM mature to a point where we can actually deploy it."

The work Facebook is doing at the moment appears to be based around making ARM a possible choice, rather than total preparation for a large-scale switch.