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Server from IBM, Google, others part of effort to best Intel in data centers

IBM hooks up with industry heavyweights including Google, Ubuntu Linux, and Nvidia, to establish "open" ecosystem based on its new Power8 compute architecture to take on Intel.


IBM's new compute architecture and the OpenPower Foundation have high aspirations: dislodge Intel from data centers.

On Wednesday, IBM launched its Power8 chip architecture for next-generation servers, which it describes as "a sliver of silicon that measures just one square inch...embedded with more than 4 billion microscopic transistors and more than 11 miles of high-speed copper wiring."

Maybe more significantly, IBM is announcing that the OpenPower Foundation -- a group that includes Nvidia and Google -- is taking the first steps toward making systems based on Power8 available.

At the OpenPower Summit on Wednesday, the foundation will present the details of its first "white box server," including a development and reference design from Tyan, and firmware and operating system developed by IBM, Google, and Canonical.

The OpenPower foundation is taking an approach similar to ARM, which powers virtually all of the world's mobile devices, by making its hardware, software, and intellectual property available for licensing.

But success is far from a given. "It will take significant investments and time to approach the level ARM enjoys today as an open architecture," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

Another part of the multifaceted announcement covers work IBM is doing with Canonical/Linux. IBM is rolling out software for Ubuntu-based servers on its Power8 systems.

Hardware aspects of the OpenPower initiative include Nvidia graphics processing unit (GPU) accelerators and memory chip technology from Micron Technology, Samsung, and SK Hynix.

Not surprisingly, IBM makes lofty claims about Power8. "IBM Power Systems are capable of analyzing data 50 times faster than the latest [Intel] x86-based systems. Certain companies have reported analytics queries running more than 1,000 times faster, reducing run times from several hours to just seconds."

"Power8 looks to be very fast when running IBM software [but] additional data are required to assess its merits relative to Intel," said Moorhead.

Intel isn't buying it. "IBM does a lot of internal testing and can make any claim they want. We're not sure which applications were used or how the tests were conducted, but they do not appear to reflect any kind of real world data center environment," an Intel spokesman told CNET.

"We don't take competition lightly and are not standing still. Most data centers around the world today run on Intel because customers recognize the value we bring to their business," the spokesman said.

Update, 10:57 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Intel.