Inspur Joins OpenPower To Build Power Machines
September 8, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It has been a little over a year since IBM got together with Google, Nvidia, Mellanox Technologies, and Tyan to form the OpenPower Foundation to open up the hardware and software technologies around the Power8 processor. The organization now has 53 members, the latest of which is Chinese systems maker Inspur.
In late August, IBM announced a deal that would put its DB2 database and WebSphere Application Server middleware on top of the 32-socket Tiansuo K1 NUMA server, which Inspur describes as a “high-end and fault tolerant computer”. Physically, it looks a bit like an IBM mainframe, and that is probably not a coincidence. The initial TS K1 machine from a few years back was based on Intel’s “Tukwila” Itanium 9300 processors and have subsequently been upgraded to the “Poulson” Itanium 9500s. The company has also said that it has a 128-socket machine in the works for even more scalability, but evidence of this box is not present on Inspur’s various sites. It is telling that IBM was eager to ink the software deal with Inspur, which has apparently created its own variants of Unix and Linux, both called K-UX, to run on the TS K1 machine and which has been marketing the box as a replacement for high-end IBM, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard systems (the IOH pack, as it were) since the beginning of this year.
Inspur is in fact one of the fast-growing and aggressive indigenous server makers in China (along with Lenovo, Sugon, and Huawei Technologies) that has been making it hard for the server incumbents based in the U.S. and Japan to make the kind of money they have in past years when China’s growth was exploding. But it seems clear now that the Chinese government wants itself and for Chinese industry to buy as much homegrown equipment as possible, and that companies like IBM will not enjoy the same level of sales as they had in the past. Chinese companies want access to intellectual property to create their own systems, and this is one of the reasons why IBM actually started the OpenPower Foundation to begin with. It was an implicit admission that direct sales of systems–even those manufactured in Shenzhen as so many of IBM’s machines are today–into Chinese organizations by outsiders was going to be more difficult.
The DB2 and WebSphere software deal is significant in terms of generating revenues for Big Blue in China, particularly since so many finance and insurance companies rely on IBM systems software these days. Inspur is already building an ecosystem of partners who will port their applications to the combination of the Inspur TS K1 hardware and the IBM systems software, the companies said in a statement. IBM and Inspur are setting up a joint “center of excellence” to help with the code porting.
But the deal with Inspur is bigger than just running IBM software on the K-UX systems. Back in the spring sometime, in the capitol of Beijing, Inspur formally joined the OpenPower Foundation to create Power-based systems. Inspur is not saying what it is up to, but Big Blue said it “will make available its new Power8 processors, support chips, and technical assistance and support services to help Inspur design its systems,” and that additionally “Inspur will use system reference design materials provided through the OpenPower Foundation, and open source firmware and software available through open source communities.”
It is not clear if Inspur is building a large or small Power system of its own, but given the fact that everyone pretty much thinks Itanium is at the end of the road, Inspur could be creating a version of the Tiansuo K1 based on Power chips. IBM’s software labs in Beijing will no doubt offer assistance in porting K-UX applications from Itanium to Power, and IBM could even roll out the QuickTransit emulation code (remember that?) to help get some applications moved over quickly.
We will see. The question, as always, is whether whatever Inspur builds will support the IBM i operating system.