IBM wants to sell Power servers based on OpenCompute designs

The company looks to offer OpenCompute members an alternative to Intel's x86 chips

IBM is warming up to the idea of adding servers using its Power processors and the OpenCompute open design to its product portfolio.

"I'm going to bring OpenCompute servers into my portfolio at some point so that I'm offering directly to the marketplace if there's a demand for it," said Doug Balog, general manager for Power Systems at IBM.

An OpenCompute-based Power server will be based on open designs, and provide an alternative to IBM's integrated systems like PurePower. It'll also provide customers more flexibility on the components used inside systems.

A Power-based OpenCompute server will also be an alternative to open server designs based on x86 chips. One target for such Power servers is hyperscale vendors, who may be looking for an alternative to Intel chips, which now dominate data centers.

Balog didn't say when servers would be added to the Power lineup. But Google and Rackspace are building a server called Zaius based on IBM's upcoming Power9 chip, which will ultimately be submitted to OpenCompute. Rackspace in the past developed a Power8 server called Barreleye, and that design was submitted to OpenCompute.

OpenCompute started in 2011 and provides open server designs. Its members include Facebook and Google, which are building mega-data centers and largely designing servers in-house to meet their specific needs. Those servers are made by companies like Foxconn and Wistron and supplied directly to the companies. That can be cheaper than buying servers through vendors like Dell or Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Most servers that ship today are based on Intel chips, but IBM believes it has a more powerful alternative with its Power processors and it has a good fit with OpenCompute.

"There is no doubt we want Power to be a first-class member from a processing standpoint as part of the OpenCompute architecture," Balog said.

More companies, especially in the financial sector -- which are big customers of Power servers -- are moving to servers based on OpenCompute architecture, Balog said.

Three years ago, IBM formed the OpenPower Foundation -- which boasts members like Google, Samsung, and Nvidia -- to open up the Power architecture and promote hardware and software development. As a result, other server makers are offering systems with Power chips.

If not buying from IBM, companies can also tap into that OpenPower ecosystem to get servers based on OpenCompute designs, Balog said.

IBM wants to mainly sell Power servers costing more than US $6,000, while letting other server makers offer low-end systems. Some of those vendors, like Tyan, are based in China. Another company offering Power servers is Supermicro, which has its headquarters in San Jose but has a big China presence.

Original design manufacturers like Wistron, which make custom servers based on OpenCompute designs, are also members of OpenPower Foundation, Balog said.

IBM currently ships servers based on the Power8 architecture. Servers based on the Power9 architecture are expected to ship in the second half of next year. Power9 has new features like support for NVLink, a new throughput mechanism that is five times faster than PCI-Express 3.0.

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