In the Wheelhouse: Evolution of OpenPOWER

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OpenPOWER is evolving. Not just itself, but all other aspects of Power Systems business as well.


Over the last two and a half years, I've watched the evolution of OpenPOWERfrom being a few big names working with board prototypes and early POWER8 chips to something much greater. Something with momentum. The combination of open development and high performance computing are bringing companies, and in fact competitors, together to work on projects that aim to revolutionize computing at the data center level.


The OpenPOWER Consortium started back in 2013 as a group of five companies: IBM, Google, Mellanox Technologies, NVIDIA, and Tyan. Now known as the OpenPOWER Foundation, it boasts a worldwide membership of 160 companies working on more than 100 development projects and over a thousand applications.


The value of open collaboration between organizations is similar to that within a single corporation, but different.


In a single corporation, even a small one, there exist the old familiar silos where people hold information behind virtual and physical locked doors. In some cases, what a person does is also held secret from other business units. There are many problems with silos, of course. Information doesn't flow to other parts of a business, so timing and priorities are absolutely affected. When people leave the company, the data can very well leave with them. Even if the data stays, because a silo is largely unmanaged, the chances that documentation doesn't exist is very real. If there's no documentation, then there's very little hope the data will ever be found, let alone understood. Very few people benefit from a silo other than the owners of the data, and only while the owners are employed.


A silo has but one useful function: personnel leverage. It's job security for the individuals who protect the data. In their rationale, if their data is open, then anyone can figure out what they do, how they do it, or worse, offer criticism or ideas of how it could be done in the future. Individuals are operating like mini-corporations, where their proprietary information is held secret, while the greater community is possibly suffering because of it.


With OpenPOWER, companies have taken the concepts and spirit of open-source software and brought it to the world of high-performance computing. Competitors are sharing information, preventing a disconnect with the rest of the industry. Today, companies need an open, accelerated ecosystem to support growing workloads. These workloads are growing faster than you can say Moore's Law is irrelevant.


But it's not just the community aspect of OpenPOWER that's interesting. If that was all that this was about, then it may as well be called OpenXeon. IBM Power Systems customers should be very happy that POWER8 technology is the platform that's being leveraged and worked on.


Gordon MacKean, chairman of the OpenPOWER Foundation recently talked about the raw power of POWER cores. "There are only two brawny cores out there: Xeon and POWER. POWER is directly suitable when you are looking at warehouse-scale or hyperscale computing from that perspective. I actually think that the industry is going to be moving towards more purpose-built computing, and I think that is different users are going to be able to leverage the advanced I/O that IBM is opening up through OpenPOWER. They are going to be able to go with purpose-built platforms that suit their workloads. I think this is a big part of this. We just heard about the CAPI 2.0 interface having twice the bandwidth and we are actually excited about how that will play out at the system level. It is open, and we are seeing a lot of people innovating in a lot of directions."


The fact that IBM Watson is directly underpinned by IBM Power Systems hardware tells you a lot about what POWER technology can do. Back in 2011, you'd need a good-sized living room to house Watson. Back then, its POWER7 cores could process 500 GB per second. Now, Watson can fit inside a single rack and offers 2,400% improvement of performance on POWER8. This is just what IBM has been doing. With cooperation and innovation driven by OpenPOWER, you can expect POWER technology to evolve at an even faster rate. One would even argue that OpenPOWER has already done that, with POWER9 on the horizon in 2017 and POWER10 around 2020. POWER10 will bring the chip size down to 10nm and have 7nm in their sights. I would imagine that IBM is feeling the pressure to innovate harder as a direct result of the OpenPOWER initiative and the development of Watson Group, a 2500-person-strong new business unit. Watson has had some major success, especially in the last year or so with initiatives into healthcare, finance, nutrition, retail, and many others. If you've got a Google News alert for IBM Watson, then you'll find that just about every week IBM is talking about what Watson is doing, from critical applications for cancer research to the best turkey recipe.


OpenPOWER is helping drive innovation for the Power Systems community, whether that's specialized industry solutions for Watson or the widespread small to medium businesses.


The OpenPOWER Foundation recently announced the 2016 OpenPOWER Summit, which is the 2nd annual meeting after the summit this past year. The OpenPOWER Summit is actually a part of the GPU Technology Conference, where they expect about 4,000 people from April 4–7, 2016. Brad McCredie, President of the OpenPOWER Foundation, says, "Over the last year, we have seen enormous growth and advancement from our members as they have moved in their journey from rethinking the datacenter to revolutionizing it. Our members continue to introduce new innovations and expand the OpenPOWER ecosystem to meet a growing demand for more innovation from clients around the globe. At this upcoming OpenPOWER Summit, we will showcase the next generation of cutting-edge advancements and take a look at what our members are bringing to market and are deploying in 2016. If you want to know what is going on with OpenPOWER or to contribute to the conversation, this will be the event not to be missed."


Expect the number of OpenPOWER Foundation members to increase up to and after the conference.