Any Place For IBM i In The OpenPower Clan?
November 3, 2014 Dan Burger
The connection between the OpenPower Alliance and IBM i is more indirect than direct, but do not miscalculate the significance of OpenPower, IBM‘s most critical, most ambitious, and most risky strategic move of the 21st century. Although this is all about scale out Linux, the cloud market, and attacking Intel, the IBM i community should be watching closely. It is a business model shift for the Power brand. From a hardware perspective, this is a trip to another galaxy.
The catch phrase “Making the Power tide go up raises all boats” is embedded in the conversations of Systems and Technology Group executives. Doug Balog, general manager of the Power Systems division, recited it during the opening session of the Enterprise2014 conference last month and again in a one-on-one session with me during that event. General manager of OpenPower alliances Ken King also referred to it when I met with him during Enterprise2014.
“Our number one priority for this initiative is to increase the relevance of Power,” King affirmed. “Both i and AIX are important to our Power brand and to IBM, but they serve different markets than what we are striving for with OpenPower. It’s not like we are developing specific OpenPower offerings for i.”
What OpenPower is developing is the first open architecture for enterprise companies. Intel, the near monopolistic ruler of the microprocessor market, is vulnerable. At least that’s what IBM believes about Intel based on its proprietary architecture. And ARM has yet to prove it’s an enterprise architecture.
“Don’t underestimate the power of creating penetration of Power-based systems from this initiative,” King says. “It can increase Power architecture longevity.”
What we are seeing from the OpenPower Alliance in the early going is an interest from third parties in building their own Power-based servers and even their own chips. These are Linux-fueled servers first and foremost, but could there, at some point, be an interest in running i on these non-IBM servers? The question is not technical. It’s a mixture of business and politics. Would IBM allow it?
“I don’t think IBM would be close-minded about that,” King told me. “I can’t speak for Tom Rosamilia, but we’re doing it for Power-Linux. I don’t know why we would not do it for i.”
King says the follow-up question is would there be an interest from enterprise customers and from third-party vendors? That’s a question and answer that is far removed from King’s focus. There are much bigger fish to fry when the goal is to build a new–and huge–market around Power.
It’s not entirely a single-focus initiative, however, and i and AIX development teams are not standing on the sidelines with their hands in their pockets. It is, after all, IBM’s intention to provide a non-Intel option in as many ways as possible.
“Don’t assume we are not already having discussions around AIX with companies that could develop AIX offerings. In certain circumstances in certain markets, we think it could be beneficial,” King acknowledges. “It may not be a global opportunity for i–it could be geography related or industry vertical related–but it could be considered because it already is being considered for AIX.”
King emphasized this is an example of what could possibly apply to i. He was not confirming or denying plans are being discussed. He has no view into that area.
“This is not on the forefront of thinking,” he says. “But there is nothing that is off the table.”
Part of the OpenPower strategy–a very big part–is to develop IT markets in countries that are looking for indigenous innovation. Companies like IBM, Intel, and plenty of others are wrestling with sales and distribution challenges in environments that favor indigenous opportunities. Working with local companies to develop systems and getting a return through those types of partnerships may be the best approach.
“We have companies in China that have announced development of Power-based systems; a company is creating a Power-based chip. It runs on the base architecture and core instruction set. That means all IBM software will run on it. That could extrapolate into new systems and environments–some funded by government entities–that need to see that those funds are successful will help the market opportunity,” King says.
Enthusiasm from companies involved in the OpenPower Alliance rises with the potential of companies building bottom-up solutions based on Power chips. And when governments are involved in pushing software companies to be integrated with these solutions, it creates market pull. Significant markets, like China, are big prizes, not only in and of themselves, but because development there can be the “seeds” that grow other markets as well.
“Countries that are focused on an indigenous IT agenda are our best opportunities,” King notes. “Countries that are willing to partner with global companies. Not all countries are at the same point on the spectrum, but we see a pattern of more countries with big economies looking for opportunities to create indigenous offerings.”
This is not the only focus of the OpenPower Alliances. But it’s the one King and I settled into during our 30-minute meeting. “We are hitting the market in multiple ways,” King says. “All different, but complementary.”
It’s clear in King’s mind that Power can’t be a niche player and that a collaborative innovation strategy is the right move to make.