Friday, March 27, 2015

OpenPOWER Foundation Summit – accelerating Open Systems momentum

By Rich Ptak

The OpenPOWER Foundation is an open collaboration of industry users, vendors, research institutions and academia launched with 5 members in early 2014. The goal was to build an ecosystem to cooperate in creating solutions using IBM’s OpenPOWER architecture to create the first truly open source system by combining open-source software and open-source hardware.

Fast forward to March, 2015, now 113 members strong, the first OpenPOWER Foundation Summit[1] was hosted as part of the GPU event in San Jose. As we describe here[2], Power Systems products figured prominently at IBM’s Interconnect 2015 conference[3]. The Foundation event provided even more evidence of the market momentum and growing interest in OpenPOWER.

On display were 15 working products from component level up to systems, processors, platforms and solutions. This year, Foundation members have 100 active projects already underway; both with and without direct IBM involvement. Projects are focused on High Performance Computing (HPC), data center optimization, operating system optimization, IBM’s Watson, industry-specific devices from chips to systems, etc.

There was an interesting undercurrent during presentations and discussion with attendees. Where one might expect a strong technical slant, event attendees and Foundation members see their objectives in the clearly practical terms of enterprise problem solving. The goal is successful application of the latest technology to the solution of major problems. They are driving a fundamental shift in understanding the application of and accomplished with technology.

Usually, the talk is of how Moore’s Law i.e., the cost-benefit (more performance + less volume + lower cost) applies. Here the discussion was about accelerating the realization real payoffs from technology. It is about cost effective, rapid problem solution and achievement of enterprise goals whether profit, new medical protocols, discovery breakthroughs or curing life-threatening disease.

Brad McCredie, Foundation President, indicated that while technology remains important, the value needed comes from facilitating business model innovations. The OpenPOWER architecture provides more opportunities to productively cooperate (and compete), with a new vision that opens the door to the future.

Representatives from Altera, Google, IBM, Mellanox, Nallatech, Nvidia, Rackspace, TYAN, Suzhou Power, etc. documented how the Open Systems model delivers benefits to consumers, service providers, researchers and vendors. Though hard data is still scarce, available evidence also points to significant price/performance benefits. Linley Group comparing IBM prices with reseller estimates found Power8 processors can be nearly 50%[4] lower than Xeon systems with x86 chips.

Here is a list of some of the significant products and prototypes that were announced in San Jose:

1.     Chinese companies will produce four products for their national market in 2015:
  • a.     PowerCore’s CP1 is the first POWER chip for the China market from a Chinese chip design company.
  • b.     Zoom Netcom’s new line of RedPOWER servers are the first Chinese OpenPOWER two-socket systems using the CP1 chip.
  • c.     ChuangHe and other Chinese OpenPOWER members described their designs for China-branded OpenPOWER systems using POWER8 processors.
  • d.     In 2014, the Chinese government formed a public-private partnership, China POWER Technology Alliance (CPTA) to integrate local Chinese and OpenPOWER ecosystem resources to accelerate their infrastructure upgrade.

2.     Products and prototypes planned for availability in Q2CY15 are:

  • b.     Cirrascale RM4950[7] – the first OpenPOWER-based GPU developer platform is a collaboration of NVIDIA, Tyan and Cirrascale  targeted to Big Data analytics, machine learning, and scientific computing GPU applications.
  • c.     Rackspace announced a prototype open server design[8] and motherboard combining OpenPOWER and Open Compute design with OpenStack management to deliver superior performance in their data centers.

3.     IBM and Wistron announced joint development of (codename) Firestone a prototype high-performance server using technology from NVIDIA and Mellanox. First of a series, it is part of IBM's technical computing roadmap and pathway to exascale computing.

4.     Also part of the exascale series of servers are Summit and Sierra for the U.S. government – Oak Ridge National Laboratory will house Summit at its Center for Accelerated Application Readiness (CAAR), announced 13 partner projects to begin preparing computational science/engineering applications to run on Summit.

Proven enormously successful with Linux, the open-source software concept profoundly impacted the software industry while significantly benefiting both vendors and users. OpenPOWER Foundation members have made significant progress in repeating the pattern, thereby releasing open-source system benefits. It is still too early to predict the final outcome with certainty, but signs are positive. Success will end Intel’s uncontested dominance of x86–based servers.

We’ll close with two quotes, first from Gordon MacKean, OpenPOWER Foundation Chair: “Through our members’ individual and collective efforts we are positively disrupting the market, delivering innovations that advance data center technology, expand choice and drive market efficiency.”

And one from Mr. Zhiqiang Tian, Senior Engineer, BIOS research and development, TEAMSUN: “The development of the OpenPOWER ecosystem in China’s high security level market enriches China ISV and IHV’s options for a total solution from hardware to software.”

I don’t see any way to improve on those statements. Congratulations to IBM, the OpenPOWER Foundation and all its members.

[1] See the presentations and talks here:
[2] Ptak Associates Tech Blog:
[3] Key sessions are available for replay.
[4] POWER8 Hits the Merchant Market states: "Pricing is no contest. We estimate that IBM’s 12-core Power8 will list for $2,500; add $180 or $360 for two or four buffer chips. Intel hasn’t published a list price for the Xeon E5-2699v3, but after surveying some Internet re-sellers, we estimate it lists for about $4,100."