IBM's OpenPower consortium with Nvidia, Google aims to advance datacenter

IBM's OpenPower consortium with Nvidia, Google aims to advance datacenter

Summary: The alliance, called the OpenPower Consortium, is a move to break into Intel's server chip dominance and provide alternatives to x86-based datacenter gear.


IBM, Google and a series of partners have formed an alliance to license Big Blue's server hardware and firmware.

The alliance, called the OpenPower Consortium, was formed to break into Intel's server chip prowess. The move could open up new designs and alternatives to the x86 architecture. The x86 architecture is under fire in the datacenter from ARM too. For instance, HP's Moonshot effort will offer a series of various special use processors. IBM's OpenPower Consortium appears to be aimed at HP, which could get traction with hyperscale servers. 

Intel didn't sound all that threatened by OpenPower. Mark Miller, an Intel spokesman, said in a statement:

Data centers around the world today run on Intel architecture, so companies clearly recognize the business value Intel brings. We don’t take these things lightly, but it’s important to remember that there is large and growing ecosystem around our technology. As we continue to innovate and offer custom alternatives, we believe it will be increasingly difficult for other architectures to compete.

With the OpenPower alliance, it's possible that more datacenter customers will develop their own hardware. If that use case---deployed by the likes of Google and Facebook---becomes the norm, IBM's intellectual property could garner a bigger footprint.

IBM will use its Power technology to push hardware designs with a series of partners.


Under the alliance, companies such as Google, IBM, Mellanox, Nvidia and Tyan will aim to build server, networking, storage and GPU acceleration technologies for hyperscale and cloud datacenters.

IBM's Power hardware and software previously was proprietary to Big Blue. The consortium will now offer open source Power firmware to control basic chip functions.

In a statement, Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM Software and Systems, said the consortium aims to use a "collaborative development model" to advance datacenter hardware.

Initially, the OpenPower Consortium will focus on integrating Nvidia and Power processors.

Topics: Data Centers, Cloud, Hardware, IBM, Servers

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  • Starting an Open Consortium opens Access to the State of Knowledge

    Senior technical staff (30 years or older) with people skills enjoy helping evaluate and standardize processes where combining their knowledge and engineering judgement with those of peers serves the common good. It would be easy to criticize the selfish motives of IBM or Facebook to improve their servers, but the results of collaboration and non-proprietary software are good for all.
  • What's the potential

    It will be interesting to see how this version of the Power alliance plays out. The Power architecture has been struggling in various markets for years due to limited support and the costs of porting and maintaining software. However, there is always room in the server market for multiple architectures because different workloads and power/performance requirements. In addition, having a data center power house like Google and a technical leader like NVIDIA, which is a pioneer in programming heterogeneous architectures (CUDA), could make this an interesting option for future platforms. Could you image a solution that combines the capabilities of a big iron processor like Power, the performance efficiency of a Tegra Processor, and the massively parallel computing capabilities of a Tesla GPU?
    • @ tiriasresearch

      And who will write the applications?

      The fact remains that Google and other Internet companies including Microsoft grew on the backs of cheap Linux GNU licensed server software running over cheap Intel x86 32-bit or 64-bit processors. And there is no Itanium chip (of the VLIW or EPIC kind) in any of these data centers.

      This is a dead on arrival initiative powered by a ghost of the AIM alliance. I mean the new OpenPower alliance is same as the old AIM (Apple, IBM, Motorola) alliance. That group allowed Apple to create high margin CPUs using PowerPC ISA (designed by Motorola/IBM/Apple and manufactured by IBM and used by Apple/IBM) while IBM was still a thriving system maker. IBM is now a surviving systems maker. Except for its high-end zSeries mainframes and the PowerPC based servers, it has not made money in the server market. And those two markets are actually declining in revenue. While Dell and Lenovo are actually increasing x86 server (rack and blade) revenues.

      Further Apple has moved on to x86 CPUs in 2006 which allowed them to get mainstream application support for apps that used to run only on Windows. That brand recognition really allowed them to sell iPhones and iPads later (using ultra-RISC ARM CPUs) to the same audience and more.

      The real threat to PowerPC is itself. IBM wastes it money on developing new Power architectures when they should seriously get into cloud services that will only run on x86. The data center is perfectly happy to run on x86 and does not need new RISC based PowerPC architectures when x86 architecture itself mimics RISC approaches in its parallelism and pipeline mechanisms.

      x86 and by association Windows shot itself in the foot by limiting their application capabilities to the desktop. But x86 will now innovate back to take a share of the mobility market (smartphone, tablet) as well as keep its desktop PC marketshare which is 100%. This is also the reason that Windows RT is dead. Newer x86 architecture changes make Windows RT redundant with Windows 8 for mobile devices as time passes.
      • Re: And who will write the applications?

        There are entire Linux-based Open Source stacks that already run on POWER/PowerPC, as well as MIPS, ARM etc. It really isn't that hard to switch.
        • Mainstream server apps

          I was writing about mainstream server apps including Oracle's, Microsoft's, IBM's own (not all run on Power arch) and even RedHat's server OS.

          Just to give an idea of PowerPC's diminishing importance to Linux, just check this article from LWN:

          • Re: I was writing about mainstream server apps

            So was I, not niche stuff like Oracle or Microsoft.

            What do you think innovative enterprises like Twitter and Google run on? Open Source, of course. Which DBMS do you think Facebook entrusts its billion-strong user database to? MySQL.
  • Go For The Low-Power/Embedded/Mobile Markets

    Go duke it out with ARM and MIPS in the fastest-growing computing areas. Who knows, you could push x86 from third to fourth place.