Driving Open Collaboration in the Datacenter


Rapid Growth of the OpenPOWER Foundation Reflects the Need for IT Collaboration and Innovation that Extends Down to the Chip

By Calista Redmond, Director, OpenPOWER Global Alliances, IBM

The computer industry is going through radical change, triggered by increasing workloads and decreasing chip performance gains, and OpenPOWER is innovating to meet the challenge.

In August 2013, IBM, Google, Mellanox, NVIDIA and Tyan announced plans to form OpenPOWER. The OpenPOWER Foundation was incorporated as a legal entity in December 2013. The last twelve months have brought us rapid membership growth across all layers of the stack – from chip to end users – and OpenPOWER members are already innovating and bringing offerings to market.

As an open, not-for-profit technical membership group, the Foundation makes POWER hardware and software available for open development, as well as POWER intellectual property licensable to other manufacturers. The result is an open ecosystem, using the POWER Architecture to share expertise, investment, and server-class intellectual property to address the evolving needs of customers and industry.

Why OpenPOWER? Why Now?

To understand why the industry is transforming so quickly, it’s important to recognize the industry forces that brought us here. There are a number of developments that have become clear and that inspired this new strategic shift for IBM and for the industry:

  1. Silicon is not enough. Moore’s Law predictions of performance improvements with each new generation of silicon have hit a physics wall and are no longer satisfying the price/performance ratios that clients and end users are looking for.
  2. Different and growing workload demands. There is a tsunami of data flooding into organizations. In order to effectively manage the volume, address governance requirements, and get more value from data through analytics, data centers need to make adjustments to optimize for the new workload demands. This evolution is true today and will continue to change in the future. It is no longer satisfactory to take an all-purpose machine and deploy it for every workload. More specialization is required.
  3. Changing consumption model of IT. The consumption model for many end users has become the cloud. Increasingly, users want to pay as they go and turn their IT services on and off like a utility. That has also led to cloud providers facing the need to specialize the hardware they deploy in their own data centers in order to effectively support this increasingly popular consumption model. Very large internet data centers and cloud service providers want to build their own, optimizing on price performance.
  4. The continued momentum and maturity of the open source software ecosystem. Open source software has taken off. It has become a very mature ecosystem delivering at enterprise class and growing stronger every day. There is more and more reliance on the open software model.

These four trends led IBM to reflect on its own strategy. To address new challenges, IBM needed to lead the industry change. Today, the OpenPOWER Foundation is addressing that need by becoming the catalyst for open innovation that is necessary throughout the entire stack, from chip through software.

Innovation and Customization Down to the Chip

With the OpenPOWER Foundation, open development spanning software, firmware and hardware is the catalyst for change.

The OpenPOWER Foundation acts as an enabler in the industry, bringing together thought leaders across multiple parts of the IT stack to innovate together. Rather than doing innovations one at a time – one partner at a time – organizations can do them in workgroups with multiple thought leaders and experts interacting together. This means innovation can be attained at multiple levels simultaneously so that there is much greater potential of beating the price/performance curve. The result is that we are creating an optimized software ecosystem, leveraging little endian Linux so software ports easily from x86 systems.

Within the POWER chip, IBM has implemented CAPI (Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface), a capability that allows co-processors to attach directly to the POWER processor, making it easier and faster to offload tasks to specialized processors. CAPI enables systems designers to customize their systems specifically for their own workloads and user demands. By opening up the software and the hardware, right down to the chip, the Foundation is providing a forum for innovation – and making the results of that innovation broadly available.

This is creating an optimized software ecosystem that is enabling a spectrum of Power servers in the market today. Today we have OpenPOWER members designing 12 specific versions of POWER systems around the world. This is merely the beginning of the proliferation of POWER systems we expect to see from OpenPOWER.

This of the OpenPOWER model as a buffet-style approach where organizations can pick and choose what is going to work absolutely best for their particular workload. Essential elements may include memory, I/O, or acceleration as some examples with multiple options.

Addressing the Emerging TCO Challenge

When we go out and talk to clients – and at IBM we are talking to end users every day – we used to have a total cost of ownership discussion that fit on one screen of a laptop. There were about six dials that they wanted to tune for their particular data center. Today, that TCO analysis is often many pages. There are many variables that organizations would like to fine-tune for the specific workloads but yet they also have a strong desire to simplify and to maximize their investment in the right number of configurations for their data center.

Through the OpenPOWER Foundation, organizations are able to customize how they consume technology by making adjustments based on the POWER Architecture. There are other architecture options out there, but ours is the most open and the most mature for the enterprise data center. Delivering open choice, riveting performance, and competitive TCO pricing strengthen the long term value proposition our end users are realizing.

POWER Architecture Momentum

December 2014 is the first anniversary of the incorporation of the OpenPOWER Foundation.

We have worked very hard to get solutions and hardware reference boards available for the public launch which was announced in April 2014. By then, we had more than two dozen members. In July, we had contributed the POWER8 firmware to open source, providing a significant signal to the market that we are very serious about enabling innovation and optimization going all the way down to the hardware level. Today, we count more than 80 OpenPOWER members. We are growing globally and now have more than a dozen members in Europe and over 20 members in Asia.

Our members’ involvement is spread across the stack from the chip level with hardware optimizations of I/O and memory, and acceleration options, and we are growing now into software. OVH, a leading internet hosting provider based in France, has just launched an on-demand cloud service based on the IBM POWER8 processor, tuned specifically for big data, high performance computing, and database workloads. In the US, Rackspace just announced their intentions to fuse the best of OpenPOWER, Open Compute, and OpenStack to drive an ultimately open data center design for cloud providers and scale out data centers.

We are also continuing to have conversations with nations that are interested in furthering their own unique domestic IT agenda as well as with large internet data centers that are moving very quickly into proof-of-concept stage with specific design points that they would like to hit for their data centers.

Some of the key milestones the OpenPOWER Foundation has made possible include:

  • The introduction of the IBM Data Engine for NoSQL – Power Systems Edition, which features the IBM FlashSystem, and is the first solution to take advantage of CAPI, and speeds input/output and enables massive server consolidation.
  • The launch of the Power System S824L, which leverages OpenPOWER Foundation technology to accelerate Java, big data and technical computing applications. Here, you see an 8x faster performance on analytics workloads and that is leveraging OpenPOWER innovations together with NVIDIA, which does GPU acceleration.
  • The availability of the first non-IBM Power System now available from TYAN, a white box provider in Taiwan.
  • Collaboration across JĂĽlich, NVIDIA, and IBM on a supercomputing center in Europe
  • Endorsement by the U.S. Department of Energy on the next generation supercomputing with a $325M contract award to OpenPOWER members
  • Launch of a CAPI with FPGA Acceleration developers kit together with Altera and Nallatech
  • Contribution of OCC firmware code for acceleration and energy management

We now have six different workgroups spread across the software and hardware layers, as well as in the area of compliance, which are making progress on deliverables. We also have another five workgroups that are in proposal stages. And, we are continuing to expand our client deployments.

We understand that it is no longer possible to accomplish what is needed at the software layer alone. What is needed is an open innovation model that goes all the way down to the chip. This is a mission no single company can or should drive alone. While we’re impressed with the momentum of this year, the strategy we’re on is taking root within the industry as thought leaders across the growing OpenPOWER community join in driving a new path forward.

Happy first birthday OpenPOWER!