OpenPower Builds Momentum With New Members, Summit
January 12, 2015 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Just as last year was ending and The Four Hundred went on hiatus for the holidays, the OpenPower Foundation that IBM established a year ago added a bunch of new members and also announced that it would be hosting its first summit for system builders, application developers, and other parties that are interested in creating wares based on the Power architecture.
While the OpenPower Consortium was created in August 2013 by IBM, Google, Nvidia, Tyan, and Mellanox Technologies, the more formal OpenPower Foundation that governs the effort to open source elements of the Power architecture to present an alternative to X86, ARM, MIPS, and other chip technologies in the datacenter (and someday perhaps in other arenas) was founded in December 2013. It is a year later and the OpenPower Foundation has more than 80 members who are contributing the expansion of the Power in a variety of ways. Like many other open projects, the OpenPower Foundation has corporate members and individual members among its ranks and there are 13 individual members who are coming in under their own names rather than through a corporate sponsor. (You can see a full listing of the OpenPower Foundation members at this link.)
A dozen members of the foundation are actually designing their own systems based on the Power8 processors, according to IBM, and the expectation is that these machines will be available sometime around the middle of 2015. The OpenPower effort focuses on Linux as the operating system, so it is very unlikely that the IBM i and AIX operating systems will be available on these non-IBM systems, even though technically it should be possible to load IBM i and AIX onto such systems provided they have the right drivers added to the system software. The OpenPower effort is not about creating alternatives to Power Systems machines to support IBM i and AIX workloads so much as it is about creating new systems with different feature sets that are more suitable for large-scale technical and distributed computing.
IBM does say that it will carefully review what the OpenPower community does to build servers, which include so-called scale-out machines meant to be clustered as well as scale-up machines that tightly couple Power8 processors together into a single machine. If something interesting is engineered by an OpenPower Foundation member, there is no reason why IBM can’t license the design or resell a machine created by that member. As I reported over at EnterpriseTech after The Four Hundred went on holiday, IBM was actually showing off a system designed by Wistron with two processor sockets and up to 1 TB of main memory that fits into a 2U rack enclosure that can also support two of Nvidia’s latest Tesla K80 GPU coprocessors. Over the long haul, as I have said many times, IBM could be looking to get entirely out of hardware manufacturing and looking to such partners to take over that part of the business, just putting its brand on the machines that the community designs and backing it with enterprise-class service and support.
It is interesting to think what International Business Machines might call itself should the day come to pass when it makes merely software and services and only resells hardware made by others.
As 2014 was winding down, two companies that have been active members of the Open Compute Project founded by Facebook, joined the OpenPower effort. Avnet, familiar to IBM i shops as one of the master distributors of Power-based systems (with the other biggie being Arrow Electronics), has been an integrator and reseller of Open Compute gear and is now participating in the OpenPower Foundation. And Rackspace Hosting, one of the original founders of the OpenStack open source cloud controller effort that is also gradually moving to Open Compute systems in its datacenters, has also gotten behind the OpenPower Foundation.
“While the open source movement has largely focused on innovations driven by software, we recognize that there is a tremendous opportunity to drive even more exciting technology breakthroughs by fostering open collaboration at all levels of design, including hardware development,” explained Tony Madden, global supplier business executive at Avnet who is familiar to IBM i shops and readers of The Four Hundred. “Collaboration in the OpenPower Foundation enables Avnet customers to drive more options to differentiate their next-generation server and storage systems.”
Rackspace, which has built its cloud infrastructure on X86 systems, the Xen hypervisor, and now the OpenStack controller, wants to foster an alternative to X86 systems, just like search engine giant and cloud player Google does. It would not be surprising to see Facebook eventually get behind OpenPower for some of its larger workloads, just like it will not be out of line to expect Google, Facebook, and Rackspace to be at the front end of any movement to ARM processors for server workloads should such a movement materialize this year as is widely expected. The hyperscale datacenter operators and cloud providers have the easiest time making such leaps because they control their own software stacks and are accustomed to making big changes more frequently than larger enterprises.
For its part, Rackspace is looking to have an open architecture–from hardware up through hypervisors, operating systems, and cloud controllers–as a competitive edge in the cut-throat cloud market. Aaron Sullivan, a senior director and distinguished engineer who manages infrastructure strategy at Rackspace, explained the company’s reasons for joining OpenPower in a blog post.
“It’s our vision that OpenPower enables OpenStack and Open Compute developers to work all the way down the stack,” Sullivan explained. “Where Open Compute opened and revolutionized data center hardware and OpenStack opened up cloud software and infrastructure-as-a-service, OpenPower is doing the same for the last black boxes in our servers: chips, buses, and firmware.”
Sullivan says that to ensure levels of performance, Rackspace is going to have to get down into the guts of servers, and that means have access to BIOS and other system firmware as well as to the features on processors, memory, and other kinds of storage devices. And rather than try to go it alone, Rackspace wants to be part of a community where many contributors are working to engineer hardware and software to run better, stronger, and faster–much as it has been able to do after forming the OpenStack project with NASA and then setting it free. To be precise, Rackspace says that it is working with other members of the OpenPower community to create a Power-based Open Compute platform, and that it intends to put that system into production and integrate it with its OpenStack-based cloud.
In a sense, this OpenPower-Open Compute system used by Rackspace for its cloud will compete with Power-based infrastructure cloud services that IBM’s own SoftLayer unit will be providing. But in another sense, it will be broadening the appeal of the Power architecture and therefore strengthening the foundation on which the IBM i operating system rests. It would be beneficial for the IBM i community if the IBM i operating system were available to run on Rackspace, SoftLayer, and any other clouds, because choice is always better. And this is something perhaps that we can all start advocating for now if we think this would be valuable.
One last thing: The OpenPower Foundation will be hosting its first summit at the San Jose Convention Center from March 17 through 19. This summit will be hosted alongside the GPU Technical Conference put together each year by Nvidia. OpenPower Foundation chairman Gordon MacKean, engineering director for the platforms group at Google, will be giving the keynote address, and other members will be presenting the work that they have done in the six working groups of the OpenPower Foundation.