Rackspace Joins IBM OpenPower, Reduces Reliance On Intel

Jeffrey Burt is a senior editor for eWEEK and contributor to TechWeekEurope

Company officials said Rackspace’s OpenPower move dovetails with other open-source efforts with OpenStack and the Open Compute Project

Cloud computing company Rackspace, which has relied heavily on Intel to power the bulk of the servers running in its data centers, is now embracing IBM’s OpenPower efforts.

Rackspace has been working with the OpenPower Foundation in the background for about 18 months, but is announcing its involvement now and its intention to build a computing platform that is based on OpenPower that will be in line with requirements for the Open Compute Project (OCP) and will run OpenStack services.

IBMPower up

IBM and several partners last year launched the OpenPower Foundation, a move by Big Blue to extend the reach of its Power architecture by opening it up and enabling other vendors to build technologies on top of it. The group has rapidly grown its membership to more than 80 vendors, with Rackspace joining a list that includes the likes of Google, Samsung, Nvidia, Hitachi, ZTE and QLogic.

Rackspace officials are turning more to open-source technologies as it looks to continually increase the performance and efficiencies of its data center resources, including its work with OpenStack—the company was a key developer of the cloud orchestration platform—and then with the Facebook-led OCP, which is aimed at designing highly energy-efficient infrastructure systems. In July, Rackspace announced its OnMetal bare-metal cloud service.

OpenPower offers an avenue to address such areas as processors, interconnects and firmware, Aaron Sullivan, senior director and Distinguished Engineer at Rackspace, wrote in the post on the company blog.

“In the world of servers, it’s getting harder and more costly to deliver the generational performance and efficiency gains that we used to take for granted,” Sullivan wrote. “There are increasing limitations in both the basic materials we use, and the way we design and integrate our systems. … As we were building OnMetal, our single-tenant, bare-metal Cloud Servers, we began to delve into firmware for Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) and systems management, a still-closed frontier. Moving forward, as we consider the performance levels we want to provide customers with future cloud offerings, we’ll need to start moving into chips, memory, and storage.

“The best way to do that is through collaborative and open efforts, and OpenPower was the perfect venue.

“OpenPOWER brings an increasingly open firmware stack, and deeper access to chips, memory and storage than anywhere else,” he wrote. “This is unprecedented, and it invites the open-source community to participate at all layers.”

Rackspace OnMetalBuilding up

Sullivan has said that Rackspace isn’t abandoning Intel, but that it is important to add another architecture—and a more open one—to the mix.

Intel continues to dominate the server chip space, owning more than 95 percent of the market. It also is rapidly building out its portfolio of offerings—with its Atom and Xeon platforms as well as its Xeon Phi coprocessors— for the growing scale-out data center market, which is becoming an increasingly important consumer of processors. Cloud service providers and Web-based companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft run millions of smaller, dense servers in their data centers and are looking for chips that are not only high-performing, but also power-efficient and low-cost.

Rackspace, which has been the subject of rumors about its future, is looking to compete with those companies.

IBM, with its Power architecture, has been a significant player in high-end servers. The OpenPower Foundation is focusing most of its efforts on the scale-out environments, Brad McCredie, an IBM Fellow, vice president of IBM Power systems and president of the OpenPower Foundation, told eWEEK in a recent interview.

Intel is the dominant architecture in the space, but customers want options, according to Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy. The choices in the scale-out space are growing, with both OpenPower and ARM looking to gain traction.

“People are looking for an alternative to Intel,” Moorhead told eWEEK. “The industry likes to see competition out there.”

The OpenPower Foundation has gained momentum over the past year. Not only has the membership grown, but the ecosystem is making strides. Original design manufacture (ODM) Tyan has a customer reference system on the market, Google is testing its own OpenPower-based motherboard, and officials with ODM Wistron are talking about an upcoming two-socket system. The group is continuing to push accelerators and advanced networking for the Power architecture, and McCredie said more OpenPower-based systems are coming next year.

The foundation was bolstered in November when the Department of Energy awarded IBM, Nvidia and Mellanox a $325 million contract to build two supercomputers using OpenPower technologies, and in February the group will host its first member summit.

Rackspace will be among those offering new systems. The company will come out with an OpenPower-based platform that it will submit to the OCP and integrate with OpenStack cloud service, Sullivan said.

“The way we use servers is already changing,” he wrote. “We’re already seeing the lines beginning to blur between conventional processors, memory and storage. End users will continue to ask for more, and we need the software and solutions to enable them.”

Rackspace wants to offer open solutions that touch on the entire stack, from hardware and firmware through to operating systems and applications, Sullivan wrote. OpenStack and the OCP are helping that push already.

“It’s our vision that OpenPOWER enables OpenStack and Open Compute developers to work all the way down the stack,” he wrote. “Where Open Compute opened and revolutionized data center hardware and OpenStack opened up cloud software and infrastructure-as-a-service, OpenPOWER is doing the same for the last black boxes in our servers: chips, buses, and firmware.”

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Originally published on eWeek.