Ever since the announcement of the OpenPower Foundation (or consortium) there has been a lot of wondering about whether or not IBM would actually make something of it. After all, IBM’s market share in servers nowadays is fairly low compared to Intel’s and Intel has pretty much dominated the server market for the past 10 years. So, many saw IBM’s move to create the OpenPower Foundation as a desperate move to make something of their new Power8 processor technology and to broaden their market share at any cost. However, companies have been slowly joining IBM’s OpenPower Foundation and their movement has gotten quite some important companies to join in addition to the original founding members in Nvidia, Tyan, Mellanox and Google.
Since September of last year, OpenPower has added Altera, Samsung, Micron, Hitachi, Inspur, Teamsun, Verisilicon, ZTE, Fusion-IO, SKHynix and Xilinx. What this means is that OpenPower is growing, and its growing really fast and that spells trouble for Intel because OpenPower means that companies can utilize IBM’s incredibly powerful Power8 architecture and Power ISA without spending anywhere near the money they would if they simply bought into Intel’s ecosystem and paid thousands of dollars for Intel’s Xeon E5 and Xeon E7 x86 CPUs. Intel is the market leader and they know it, so they charge prices that make leaving Intel incredibly attractive whenever an opportunity presents itself. So, naturally, companies like Google and Facebook that have their own server farms and have hundreds of thousands if not millions of severs around the word are going to want to look for ways to boost performance and reduce cost. So, this week, Google showed off their own motherboard (probably manufactured for them by Foxconn) that utilizes two Power8 processors to power a server, effectively cutting Intel out of Google’s future server plans.
In a statement on Google+, Gordon McKean of Google talked about this new board that Google has developed and is showing off at the OpenPower booth at the IBM IMPACT 2014 conference. Obviously this statement was meant to be a significant one as this was Gordon’s first and last post on Google+ and it makes a pretty significant statement about Google porting over to Power8 from x86.
Today I’m excited to show off a Google POWER8 server motherboard in the OpenPOWER booth at the Impact 2014 conference in Las Vegas. 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 liitle-endian support in P8). 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. (Google, IBM and others formed the OpenPOWER Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing an open ecosystem.)
Clearly, Google and IBM are making progress with their OpenPower Foundation and companies like Intel should be watching them very closely because they have everything that they need from all of the key companies to be able to turn this OpenPower Foundation into something seriously competitive with Intel. Ironically, though, companies like Mellanox are very closely allied with Intel, but are still members of OpenPower because in the end, their technology is really processor agnostic and if they can sell more interconnects, why not? If you look closely at the board, you can see that Google intentionally blacked out a lot of the ICs on the board, which isn’t very open of them, but is probably done in order to keep their platform safe from prying eyes until it starts being deployed on a broad scale.