IBM to Power Up SoftLayer Cloud Service

Details emerge on the Power architecture IBM plan to use to beef up the cloud service it acquired last year.

IBM recently indicated it will add compute infrastructure based on its high-performance Power processors to its SoftLayer cloud service, and this week the OpenPOWER Foundation released technical specifications of the next iteration of the platform.

The foundation was established by IBM last year to establish an open ecosystem, using the Power architecture to share expertise and resources with customers and industry.

The SoftLayer service, acquired by IBM last year for $2 billion, uses commodity x86/x64 compute servers, as do the majority of cloud providers.

In addition to launching three new Power servers aimed at processing big data analytics, IBM claims its latest Power-based systems can process data 50 times faster than x86-based systems based on its own tests. The company also said some customers have reported Power can process queries 1,000 times faster and within seconds rather than hours.

IBM's decision to open the Power architecture was a move to ensure it didn't meet the fate of the Sun Sparc platform. Founding members of the OpenPOWER Foundation include Google, IBM, Mellanox Technologies, Nvidia and Tyan. The group said 25 members have since joined since it was formed, including Canonical, Samsung Electronics, Micron, Hitachi, Emulex, Fusion-IO, SK Hynix, Xilinx, Jülich Supercomputer Center and Oregon State University.

Getting Google on board last year was a coup for the effort, though it remains to be seen whether it will have broad appeal. "Google is clearly the king maker here, and placing it at the head of OpenPOWER was a brilliant move," wrote analyst Rob Enderle, of the Enderle Group, in this week's Pund-IT review newsletter. "Still, it will have to put development resources into this and fully commit to the effort to assure a positive outcome. If this is accomplished, Power will be as much a Google product as an IBM product and engineering companies like Google tend to favor technology they have created over that created by others, giving Power an inside track against Intel."

Looking to flesh out its own hybrid cloud offering, IBM announced a partnership with Canonical, which will immediately offer the new Ubuntu Server 1.04 LTS distribution released last week, which includes support for Ubuntu OpenStack and the Juju service orchestration tools. IBM also said PowerKVM, based on the Linux-based KVM virtual machine platform for Power, will work on IBM's Power8 systems.

The Canonical partnership adds to existing pacts IBM had with Red Hat and SUSE, whose respective Linux distributions will also run on Power8. The company has two new S Class servers, the S812L and S822L, that only run Linux, along with the three new systems announced this week -- the S814, S822 and S824 -- that will run both Linux and AIX, IBM's iteration of Unix. IBM is offering them in 1- and 2-socket configurations and 1, 2 and 4U form factors. Pricing starts at $7,973.

Look for other OpenPOWER developments at IBM's Impact conference next week in Las Vegas. Among then, Mellanox will demonstrate RDMA on Power, which will show latency and throughput of 10x. Nvidia will announce plans to add its CUDA software for its GPU Accelerators with IBM Power processors. The two companies will demonstrate what they claim is the first GPU accelerator framework for Java and a major performance boost when running Hadoop analytics apps. Nvidia will also offer its NVLink high-speed interconnect product, launched last month, to the OpenPOWER Foundation.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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