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IBM's Power chips hit the big time at Google

James Niccolai | April 7, 2016
Google and Rackspace are working on a server that uses IBM's Power9 processor.

Last month Google joined the Open Compute Project and submitted the design for a 48-volt server rack that it co-developed with Facebook. The OCP is a place where end users and vendors collaborate on new infrastructure.

The Power server it's developing with Rackspace is designed to be compatible with the 48-volt rack.

Zaius specs 
The basic specs for Zaius. Credit: James Niccolai

The name Zaius comes from a character in the film "Planet of the Apes." The basic design is for a server with two Power9 processors and 32 DDR4 DIMM sockets.

Few other details were available Wednesday. Key to the design is that Power9 will support new high-speed interfaces, including IBM's CAPI and Nvidia's NVLink, that will make it easy to connect the CPU to accelerator chips such as GPUs.

IBM kicked off the OpenPower effort about three years ago. Aiming to breath new life into its struggling Power business, it opened up the platform to let third parties build servers and processors. The effort seems to be paying off.

Rackspace has already designed one Power-based server, called Barreleye, that it plans to put in production in the coming months, offering cloud services to its cloud customers.

Power is "the highest performance, most cost-effective option for workloads that run on Linux," according to Sullivan. For cloud customers, he said, Power servers running Linux "don't feel any different from any mainstream x86 system they've worked with in the past."

He dismissed the suggestion that companies like Google are showing interest in Power as a way to pressure Intel to reduce its pricing. "I so wish we could make that narrative go away, because it's so wrong," he said.

Intel isn't standing still, of course. The company has been selling custom Xeon chips to keep its cloud customers happy, and its acquisition of Altera will allow it to build accelerators into its own chips.

Along with the Zaius server, other companies also announced servers and components Wednesday that are part of the OpenPower effort.

Among them, IBM Itself is working with white-box server vendor Wistron to build a new HPC system that uses Nvidia's Tesla platform. The server will connect Power8 processors directly to Nvidia's Tesla P100 GPU via the NVLink interconnect.

Wistron's participation is significant, because cloud providers like Rackspace and Google like to buy systems from low-cost server makers in Taiwan and China.

Tyan, another white box maker, announced it has developed a 1U Power8 server. In addition, Mellanox, Xilinx and other companies announced new accelerators that work with IBM's CAPI interface.

More details about the new OpenPower products announced Wednesday are here and here.


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