Right now I’m pretty sure the sum total of server vendors using IBM’s Power chip is one: IBM. (Don’t worry, IBM will correct me if this is not the case.)
Now Big Blue is making big noise about a new development alliance it’s formed with some big names, including Google, in hopes of changing that and making a dent in the dominance that Intel has in server processors.
The goal is to open up the Power chip’s innovations to the world at large, according to an IBM statement. IBM said the move will make:
“POWER hardware and software available to open development for the first time as well as making POWER IP licensable to others, greatly expanding the ecosystem of innovators on the platform. The consortium will offer open-source POWER firmware, the software that controls basic chip functions. By doing this, IBM and the consortium can offer unprecedented customization in creating new styles of server hardware for a variety of computing workloads.”
Other vendors in this effort include Mellanox (switches and host adapters), NVIDIA (graphics processors) and Tyan (motherboards). But make no mistake: Google is the big name here. It is noted for running tons of custom servers, few of which, I’m guessing, run IBM Power chips. And there’s no guarantee that will change now.
A Google spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that “the consortium has the potential to establish Power architecture as a viable option for applications running within Google’s data centers.” She also said that Google believes in openness and looks forward to innovation that the POWER group will bring.
There is already at least one open hardware effort, notably the Facebook-initiated Open Compute Project, which applies open-source development principles from software in the data center hardware realm.
IBM’s move comes at a time when name-brand servers from IBM and HP are under siege by low-cost white box providers, which are seeing market share gains.