Google and other OpenPower Foundation partners express interest in IBM's Power8 chip designs and server motherboard specs.
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IBM, originally one of the most proprietary of companies, is taking a page from the Open Compute Project's book and making its latest Power8 chip designs, and the specs for the new Power8 server motherboard, available to both collaborators and competitors.
Under this OpenPower ecosystem, any partner or competitor may negotiate a license with IBM and take Power8 designs to a chip fabricator to produce CPUs for its own products. They may likewise take Power chips and use them in their own servers and products, said Steve Sibley, IBM's director of Power Systems, in an interview.
IBM plans to announce both moves at an Innovation Summit in San Francisco Wednesday, in part because support for OpenPower has come from some large West Coast partners. Google, an original member (along with Mellanox, Nvidia, and Tyan) of the OpenPower Foundation organized last August, has expressed interest in using IBM Power8 servers. Google hasn't specified whether it's looking to Power8 for big-data processing servers or general purpose, search engine, and cloud computing servers.
Tyan, a custom hardware manufacturer with engineering centers in Taiwan, China, and the US, announced Wednesday it has produced a Power8 reference design for whitebox server production.
Another open hardware initiative, the Open Compute Project founded by Facebook, includes Dell and HP, as well as small third-party manufacturers including Hyve, Avnet, and Penguin, that produce custom, whitebox designs. Open Compute began two years before OpenPower's launch.
Power8 has been designed with some specific big-data handling characteristics. It is, for example, an eight-threaded processor, meaning each of 12 cores in a CPU will coordinate the processing of eight sets of instructions at a time -- a total of 96 processes, Sibley told us. By "processes," he means a set of related instructions making up a discrete process within a program. By designating sections of an application that can run as a process and coordinate the results, a chip can accomplish more work than a single-threaded chip.
Intel's Sandy Bridge E5 Xeon CPUs are double-threaded cores, with up to eight cores in a CPU, handling 16 processes at a time. The speed of execution is also important, and a small amount of coordination overhead is incurred as more threads are added. Nevertheless, the Power8 chip will attract interest among whitebox manufacturers and users of large numbers of servers processing big data, Sibley predicts.
Like Sandy Bridge, IBM will manufacture Power8s by June with 22 nanometer circuits. It will run between 2.5 and 5 GHz. IBM estimates it will do two or three times the amount of processing work as the predecessor Power7 chip. In some cases, it will be able to analyze data "50 times faster than the latest x86-based systems," Sibley claims.
Such comparisons often pit one manufacturer's latest generation against a competitor's aging generation. Nevertheless, the Power8 has a clear lead in certain areas. It is built in 15 metal layers, using a silicon-on-insulator fabrication process. They contain 4.2 billion transistors, compared to the 1.16 billion to 2.27 billion on Sandy Bridge.
Sibley says IBM's most significant changes in Power8 are concerned with how
Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek, having joined the publication in 2003. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse ... View Full Bio
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