IBM Unveils Brawny New Power8 Servers, Says Third Parties Are Building On Power Chips


IBM unveiled the first servers that run its new Power8 processors Wednesday, touting them as capable of handling the rigors of big data and high-performance computing apps.

But this was no ordinary product launch. IBM spent much of a one-hour press conference in San Francisco touting the growth of the OpenPOWER Foundation, an industry consortium it launched with Google, Nvidia and others last December that aims to get third-party software and hardware vendors building their technology around the Power processor architecture.

The OpenPOWER Foundation is "now open for business" with firmware, Linux OS support, hypervisor and development tools in place, Gordon MacKean, engineering director for Google's platform group and chairman of OpenPOWER, said at the press conference.  

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OpenPOWER is a way to break down barriers between server computing components, fixing bottlenecks that exist between networking, memory subsystems, I/O, storage and app acceleration technology, MacKean said.

While Google runs much of its operations on low-end x86 server hardware running specialized software, MacKean said the search giant is "investigating" whether IBM's Power architecture is suitable for its workload needs.

"We see OpenPOWER as an opportunity to launch the third generation of warehouse-scale computing," said MacKean.

OpenPOWER, which began with five vendors five months ago, now has 26 member companies, including high-profile newcomers Samsung and Hitachi.

OpenPOWER co-founder Nvidia is planning to bring CUDA software support to its GPUs with IBM Power chips in the fourth quarter. The chip maker also is working with IBM on NVlink, a technology that speeds the sharing of data between GPUs and CPUs, opening the door to high-performance big data and scientific apps.

Server motherboard maker Tyan, another founding OpenPOWER member, is contributing a white-box server reference design, with IBM, Google and Canonical pitching in on firmware and operating system development.

Similar to the approach ARM Holdings uses in the mobile device market, the OpenPOWER Foundation makes its hardware and software intellectual property available for third-party vendors to license.

"People can literally take the IP, and the licensing model, and do derivative work," Tom Rosamilia, head of IBM's Systems and Technology Group, said at the event. "They can contribute it back or keep it to themselves. They've got the freedom to innovate."

IBM said it spent three years and $2.4 billion in R&D on the five new servers running its Power8 processor. At the event, Doug Balog, general manager of IBM Power Systems, said the servers are tuned for faster compute, memory and bandwidth performance, making them ideal for big data apps.

Balog also said the Power8 processors offer 20 percent to 30 percent better price for performance than their Intel x86 counterparts.  

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