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IBM, Google and Nvidia form Openpower Consortium to rival Intel and AMD

Attempts to mirror ARM's business model
Wed Aug 07 2013, 10:52
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TECHNOLOGY GIANTS IBM, Google and Nvidia have joined forces and announced the formation of the Openpower Consortium, an open development alliance that unlocks the intellectual property (IP) of IBM's Power microprocessor.

In a bid to offer the market an alternative to AMD and Intel's x86 chip architecture, the alliance is joined by Ethernet technology firm Mellanox and motherboard manufacturer Tyan, and intends to build advanced server, networking, storage and GPU acceleration technology based on the chips for cloud datacentres.

"The Consortium [is] aimed at delivering more choice, control and flexibility to developers of next generation, hyperscale and cloud data centres," the firms' joint statement read.

"The move makes [IBM's] Power hardware and software available to open development for the first time as well as making Power IP licensable to others, expanding the ecosystem of innovators on the platform."

The consortium will offer IBM's open source Power firmware, the software that controls basic chip functions. By doing this, the consortium enables customisation in creating new styles of server hardware for different computing workloads.

As the consortium's biggest member, Google said in a statement that Openpower has the "potential to establish Power architecture as a viable option for applications running within Google's [datacentres]".

IBM said the move is an attempt to capitalise on a growing trend among datacentre operators who design their own hardware rather than buy commodity hardware off the shelf.

"Under the Openpower initiative, IBM will license the core intellectual property for our Power technologies to other companies for use in designing servers employed in cloud [datacentres]," wrote SVP of IBM's Systems and Technology Group Tom Rosamilia in a blog post.

"Up until now, IBM primarily used the Power design in its own servers. This new initiative makes it possible for cloud services and their technology providers to redesign the chips and circuit boards where computing is done - optimising the interactions of microprocessors, memory, networking, data storage and other components.

"As a result, they can get servers that are custom-tuned for their applications."

IBM's Openpower Consortium is also an attempt to mirror British semiconductor firm ARM's business model, licensing its technology to system builders and chip suppliers but not manufacturering the chips itself, though the news doesn't mean IBM has plans to stop making its own Power chips.

Like ARM it seems that IBM's new alliance is an attempt to break into a growing server niche of energy efficient chips that go into a new breed of servers that save space and minimise power consumption.

The announcement of the consortium came just less than a month after IBM announced a 17 percent drop in second quarter profits to $3.2bn despite mainframe sales increasing by 11 percent.

IBM, one of the economy's most resilient companies, had been able to weather the financial storm until announcing thousands of job cuts recently. The company announced that it saw a 3.3 percent drop in revenues to $24.9bn, and more worryingly a 17 percent drop in profits to $3.2bn. µ

 

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