IBM plugs OpenPower servers into SoftLayer cloud

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IBM will roll out a cloud computing service next quarter using OpenPower-based servers, continuing an effort to expand the market for Power processors and challenge Intel in hyperscale data centers.

The company’s SoftLayer division will provide an infrastructure-as-a-service offering using OpenPower systems in the second quarter, initially from a data center in Dallas, Texas, it said Wednesday. It will roll out the service worldwide at a later date.

IBM kicked off its OpenPower initiative about two years ago. Its goal is to license its Power architecture to other server makers, who can use it to design systems targeted at online service providers like Google and cloud providers like Amazon Web Services.

Those companies rely on Intel x86 servers today, and part of IBM’s challenge is to show that OpenPower can be a good option for the cloud. That’s why SoftLayer is using servers from Tyan, a low-cost Taiwanese vendor, rather than IBM’s own pricier Power-based Unix servers.

IBM says Power chips offer a better balance of cost and performance than x86 processors for some workloads, particularly those that need a lot of main memory, like analyzing large data sets, or that can take advantage of a lot of compute threads.

“The key metric is total cost of ownership; you have to win at that equation,” said Brad McCredie, an IBM fellow and president of the OpenPower Foundation. He said OpenPower is a good option for IBM’s Bluemix app development platform, too.

The OpenPower systems are designed to run Linux applications, and IBM modified its latest Power chip to run in so-called “little endian” mode, a way of handling data that’s compatible with x86 processors. That should make it easier for developers to port their Linux applications from x86 to Power.

IBM won’t yet disclose pricing for its OpenPower cloud service or discuss system configurations, though it might say more in two weeks at its first OpenPower Summit, in Silicon Valley, where it’s also likely to provide an update on the latest OpenPower hardware in development.

The OpenPower Foundation has about 100 members including system builders Tyan, Hitachi and Wistron, component makers Nvidia, Mellanox and Micron, and Linux distributor Ubuntu. Google is a member too, and last year it showed off an OpenPower board it designed for testing, though it’s not known how widely it’s using it.

IBM might become the first company to provide an OpenPower-based cloud service, though RackSpace has said it will also offer a service, and OVH, a European hosting company, offers an OpenPower service for developers building data-heavy applications.

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