Google Reveals Its Own Power8 Motherboard; Can It Run IBM i?
May 5, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If nothing else comes of this, IBM has been able to brilliantly leverage the inherent newsiness of search engine juggernaut Google to its advantage in creating some interest in–and dare we say excitement for–the Power8 processor.
At last week’s Impact2014 conference, which we report on elsewhere in this issue, Gordon MacKean, who is engineering director for the platforms group at Google and also the first elected chairman of the OpenPower Foundation, which is tasked with opening up the firmware and hardware for IBM’s Power8 processors, unveiled Google’s own two-socket motherboard for the shiny new IBM chip. If you were not at the Google booth, then you could see it on MacKean’s Google+ page. Here is what it looks like:
The Google board is light and airy by modern standards, and is interesting for a number of reasons. First, the processors are not staggered but are in line, which suggests that Google is not using air cooling blowing across the chips. But maybe the chassis simply has enough air space in the test machines to not warrant the staggering of the processors, as often happens with server chips. (If they are not staggered, they are usually side-by-side, with memory on opposite sides of and very close to the processors.) If you look carefully, there are no slots that look like regular DDR3 or DDR4 memory slots, but the eight white slots that surround the processors are a bit staggered, presumably for airflow reasons. These look like PCI-Express slots to my eye. They could be power connectors or peripheral slots, and the five gray slots could be peripheral slots or power slots, too. Many microservers use the PCI-Express slot to power up, so it would not be surprising that Google would do so. The white slots could be memory slots using some kind of custom interconnect that just so happens to look like a PCI-Express slot even if the signaling is much faster. Memory could be on the other side of the board as well–Google did not flip it over so we could see it.
It is not clear what the black electronics in the center left of the board is, or the port at the top. The bottom of the board seems to have a couple of USB ports on the lower left and two Ethernet ports. The center right of the board has what looks like four modified SATA ports. The processor sockets say Foxconn on them, and it is a fair assumption that this Taiwanese contract manufacturer has built the board to Google’s design.
“We’re always looking to deliver the highest quality of service for our users, and so we built this server to port our software stack to Power, which turned out to be easier than expected, thanks in part to the little-endian support in P8,” said MacKean in his post. “A real server platform is also critical for detailed performance measurements and continuous optimizations and to integrate and test the ongoing advances that become available through OpenPower and the extended OpenPower community.”
It is fair to presume that Google has systems based on the single-socket board made by Tyan. IBM has already confirmed that Google has access to its own Power8 systems and has had them before they were launched on April 28. IBM and Tyan are offering the single-socket board spec to OpenPower Foundation members, but it is not clear if Google will do the same.
Here’s what I want to know: Can this board run IBM i, and if so, when can we get IBM i on Google’s Compute Engine public cloud? And if we join OpenPower Foundation, can we start making our own IBM i systems? Will IBM license the code to us, or is this all just about Linux and open source stacks on top of it?
I think you probably guessed the answer there. But it is something interesting to think about, and we should do just that and see where we might want to take this.