By Tom Rosamilia
Cloud computing offers businesses and individuals another way to do important work — on computers that they don’t always own or manage. The cloud transforms computing into a utility, like electricity or water. It’s all about speed and convenience.
Many organizations are operating large cloud data centers packed with hundreds of thousands of server computers, and their technologists are looking for ways to differentiate their services from their competitors while reducing complexity. Today, many of them use technologies that originated in the personal computing era to power their data centers. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that’s out of sync with the demands of the cloud era. In addition, these organizations still face critical issues like system utilization and management complexity. The ideal approach is a “lights out” model and technologies that support that model.
In an effort to progress cloud computing, IBM is announcing, today, the OpenPOWER Consortium – a new initiative aimed at expanding the technology choices available to modern IT developers. This is a big step for us—and for the tech industry. We hope it will usher in a new wave of innovation that will deliver great benefits to businesses and other users of cloud services.
Under the OpenPOWER initiative, IBM will license the core intellectual property for our POWER technologies to other companies for use in designing servers employed in cloud data centers. Up until now, IBM primarily used the POWER design in its own servers. This new initiative makes it possible for cloud services and their technology providers to redesign the chips and circuit boards where computing is done—optimizing the interactions of microprocessors, memory, networking, data storage and other components. As a result, they can get servers that are custom-tuned for their applications. Think of it as a license to innovate—delivering more choice, control and flexibility to developers of cloud data centers.
The initiative is “open” in three ways. First, we are licensing the microprocessor technology to other companies openly—meaning they get to look at the blueprints for the processor and the software that goes with it so they can take full advantage of its capabilities. The cloud service providers will be able to hire IBM or other companies to manufacture the processors and other related chips.
Second, the OpenPOWER Consortium will harness the open-collaboration business model. Companies that join will share innovations with one another and collaborate on specific technology development projects. The initial members of the consortium are Google, the search giant; Mellanox, a data center, storage and networking company; TYAN, a computer motherboard supplier; and NVIDIA, a maker of graphics accelerator chips for computers and mobile devices. The goal is to create an ecosystem of hardware and software developers to drive innovation in cloud computing.
Lastly, the initiative takes advantage of the open-source Linux operating system, which has become the operating system of choice in cloud data centers.
Why would a cloud service provider want to design its own servers? The answer comes down to differentiation and economics. In this highly competitive technology marketplace, companies want to be able to provide capabilities such as big data analytics and targeted advertising at the highest performance levels and at the most competitive prices. If a company is only using a few thousand servers, it doesn’t pay for them to invest in hardware R&D to achieve a competitive advantage. But if they’re buying hundreds of thousands or even millions of servers, the balance might tip in favor of hardware innovation.
IBM learned a crucial lesson about the power of collaboration when we threw our weight behind Linux in 1999. We helped legitimize Linux as a reasonable alternate operating system. And it paid off for IBM and the Linux community, alike. With IBM’s endorsement, Linux quickly became an additional standard technology for large banks, government agencies and other intensive users of computing. It became another common operating system that runs across multiple hardware platforms. In fact, even the mainframe with its zOS operating system ships almost half of its capacity running Linux. The lesson we learned: It’s sometimes better to share with others in the development of foundational technologies—then innovate around them.
I expect the same sort of outcome in cloud computing. If IBM and its consortium partners can create a healthy business ecosystem around a core of shared technologies, the possibilities are endless. IBM is excited to help drive this opportunity. In fact, this announcement shows our commitment to aggressive investment in our POWER processors and servers. Other innovations will come from our partners. The outpouring of creativity will ultimately benefit the thousands of businesses and millions of people who rely on the potential value of cloud computing every day.