OpenPOWER Starts Delivering the Goods

Are you leery of multi-vendor consortiums? DancingDinosaur as a rule is skeptical of the grand promises they make until they actually start delivering results. That was the case with OpenPOWER last spring when you read here that the OpenPOWER Foundation was introduced and almost immediately forgotten.

 power8 cpu blocks

IBM POWER8 processor, courtesy of IBM (click to enlarge)

But then last fall DancingDinosaur reported on NVIDIA and its new GPU accelerator integrated directly into the server here. This too was an OpenPOWER Foundation-based initiative. Suddenly, DancingDinosaur is thinking the OpenPOWER Foundation might actually produce results.

For example, IBM introduced a new range of systems capable of handling massive amounts of computational data faster at nearly 20 percent better price/performance than comparable Intel Xeon v3 Processor-based systems. The result:  a superior alternative to closed, commodity-based data center servers. Better performance and at a lower price. What’s not to like?

The first place you probably want to apply this improved price/performance is to big data, which generates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data across the planet every day. Even the miniscule portion of this amount that you actually generate will very quickly challenge your organization to build a sufficiently powerful technology infrastructures to gain actionable insights from this data fast enough and at a price you can afford.

The commodity x86 servers used today by most organizations are built on proprietary Intel processor technology and are increasingly stretched to their limits by workloads related to big data, cloud and mobile. By contrast, IBM is designing a new data centric approach to systems that leverages the building blocks of the OpenPOWER Foundation.

This is plausible given the success of NVIDIA with its GPU accelerator. And just this past week Altera demonstrated its OpenPOWER-based FPGA, now being used by several other Foundation members who are collaborating to develop high-performance compute solutions that integrate IBM POWER chips with Altera’s FPGA-based acceleration technologies.

Formed in late 2013, the OpenPOWER Foundation has grown quickly from 5 founders to over 100 today. All are collaborating in various ways to leverage the IBM POWER processor’s open architecture for broad industry innovation.

IBM is looking to offer the POWER8 core and other future cores under the OpenPOWER initiative but they are also making previous designs available for licensing. Partners are required to contribute intellectual property to the OpenPOWER Foundation to be able to gain high level status. The earliest successes have been around accelerators and such, some based on POWER8’s CAPI (Coherence Attach Processor Interface) expansion bus built specifically to integrate easily with external coprocessors like GPUs, ASICs and FPGAs. DancingDinosaur will know when the OpenPOWER Foundation is truly on the path to acceptance when a member introduces a non-IBM POWER8 server. Have been told that may happen in 2015.

In the meantime, IBM itself is capitalizing on the OpenPower Foundation. Its new IBM Power S824L servers are built on IBM’s POWER8 processor and tightly integrate other OpenPOWER technologies, including NVIDIA’s GPU accelerator. Built on the OpenPOWER stack, the Power S824L provides organizations the ability to run data-intensive tasks on the POWER8 processor while offloading other compute-intensive workloads to GPU accelerators, which are capable of running millions of data computations in parallel and are designed to significantly speed up compute-intensive applications.

Further leveraging the OpenPOWER Foundation at the start of March IBM announced that SoftLayer will offer OpenPOWER servers as part of its portfolio of cloud services. Organizations will then be able to select OpenPOWER bare metal servers when configuring their cloud-based IT infrastructure from SoftLayer, an IBM company. The servers were developed to help organizations better manage data-intensive workloads on public and private clouds, effectively extending their existing infrastructure inexpensively and quickly. This is possible because OpenPOWER servers leverage IBM’s licensable POWER processor technology and feature innovations resulting from open collaboration among OpenPOWER Foundation members.

Due in the second quarter, the SoftLayer bare metal servers run Linux applications and are based on the IBM POWER8 architecture. The offering, according to IBM, also will leverage the rapidly expanding community of developers contributing to the POWER ecosystem as well as independent software vendors that support Linux on Power and are migrating applications from x86 to the POWER architecture. Built on open technology standards that begin at the chip level, the new bare metal servers are built to assist a wide range of businesses interested in building custom hybrid, private, and public cloud solutions based on open technology.

BTW, it is time to register for IBM Edge2015 in Las Vegas May 10-15. Edge2015 combines all of IBM’s infrastructure products with both a technical track and an executive track.  You can be sure DancingDinosaur will be there. Watch for upcoming posts here that will highlight some of the more interesting sessions.DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran IT analyst and writer.

Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing on Technologywriter.com and here.

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One Response to “OpenPOWER Starts Delivering the Goods”

  1. Vodafone Spain Picks IBM zSystem for Smarter Cities Initiative | DancingDinosaur Says:

    […] Mainframe computing in the 21st century « OpenPOWER Starts Delivering the Goods […]

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