With IBM’s August 6 announcement of new POWER partners, including Google, not only is IBM aiming to expand the variety of POWER workloads but establish an alternative ecosystem to Intel/ x86 that continues to dominate general corporate computing. Through the new Open POWER Consortium, IBM will make POWER hardware and software available for open development for the first time as well as offer open-source POWER firmware, the software that controls basic chip functions. By doing this, IBM and the consortium can enable innovative customization in creating new styles of server hardware for a variety of computing workloads.
IBM has a long history of using open consortiums to grab a foothold in different markets; as it did with Eclipse (open software development tools), Linux (open portable operating system), KVM (open hypervisor and virtualization), and OpenStack (open cloud interoperability). In each case, IBM had proprietary technologies but could use the open source consortium strategy to expand market opportunities at the expense of entrenched proprietary competitors like Microsoft or VMware. The Open POWER Consortium opens a new front against Intel, which already is scrambling to fend off ARM-based systems and other lightweight processors.
The establishment of the Open POWER Consortium also reinforces IBM’s commitment to the POWER platform in the face of several poor quarters. The commitment to POWER has never really wavered, insists an IBM manager, despite what financial analysts might hint at. Even stronger evidence of that commitment to POWER is POWER8, which is on track for 2014 if not sooner, and POWER9, which is currently in development, he confirmed.
As part of its initial collaboration within the consortium, IBM reported it and NVIDIA will integrate NVIDIA’s CUDA GPU and POWER. CUDA is a parallel computing platform and programming model that enables dramatic increases in computing performance by harnessing the power of the graphics processing unit (GPU). GPUs increasingly are being used to boost overall system performance, not just graphics performance. The two companies envision powerful computing systems based on NVIDIA GPUs and IBM’s POWER CPUs and represent an example of the new kind of systems the open consortium can produce.
However, don’t expect immediate results. The IBM manager told DancingDinosaur that the fruits of any collaboration won’t start showing up until sometime next year. Even the Open POWER Collaboration website has yet to post anything. The consortium is just forming up; IBM expects the public commitment of Google to attract other players, which IBM describes as the next generation of data-center innovators.
As for POWER users, this can only be a good thing. IBM is not reducing its commitment to the POWER roadmap, plus users will be able to enjoy whatever the new players bring to the POWER party, which could be considerable. In the meantime, the Open POWER Consortium welcomes any firm that wants to innovate on the POWER platform and participate in an open, collaborative effort.
An even more interesting question may be where else will IBM’s interest in open systems and open consortiums take it. IBM remains “very focused on open and it’s a safe bet that IBM will continue to support open technologies and groups that support that,” the IBM manager told DancingDinosaur. IBM, however, has nothing to announce after the Open POWER Consortium. Hmm, might a z/OS open collaborative consortium someday be in the works?
SHARE will be in Boston next week. DancingDinosaur expects to be there and will report on the goings-on. Hope to see some of you there. There also are plans for a big IBM System z/Power conference, Enterprise Systems 2013, toward to end of October in Florida. Haven’t seen many details yet, but will keep you posted as they come in.