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Google, Rackspace to together unfurl DIY Power9 server designs

Web giant loves to keep its options open ... right, Intel?

OpenPower Summit Google and Rackspace are working together on blueprints for servers that use IBM’s Power9 processors. The designs will be shared publicly via the Open Compute Project, it is hoped.

The pair are due to announce their collaboration this week. The hardware will fit the 48V Open Compute racks Google is designing with Facebook. We’re told a blog post will appear here around 9am Pacific Time to confirm the news.

“Working with Rackspace, we will submit a Power9 server design to the Open Compute Project that will address the diverse requirements of end customers for data center services,” said Maire Mahony, a Google hardware engineering manager, and an OpenPOWER Foundation board member.

Diverse is certainly the word: Intel has nearly 100 per cent of the data center compute market, so any silicon other than Chipzilla’s x86 is diverse and niche. IBM’s beefy POWER architecture has its eyes on boffins and AI developers who need high performance with an extreme amount of data – such as the US government’s Department of Energy. Power9 processors are due to arrive in 2017.

OpenPower was founded by IBM, Google, Nvidia and others: it openly licenses Big Blue’s microprocessor and server designs, plus hardware and software, to create customizable Power-powered powerhouses. Open Compute is another alliance of tech and cloud giants that openly share their data center designs, and get Asian factories churning out relatively cheap boxes using the standardized specifications. This bypasses the traditional IT vendors.

While Intel makes customized Xeon chips for Google, Amazon and other hyper-scale cloud providers, Google for one is always on the lookout for multiple suppliers for its systems. ARM, Power, whatever fits, whatever it can customize for its needs. The open nature of the designs means many manufacturers compete to provide the gear, all built from a single spec, which tends to work out cheaper for Google than relying on one or two box makers.

For Google, changing a toolchain flag is all that's needed to build its software for the Power architecture. Google likes to keep its options open.

Rackspace will also confirm its plans to roll out systems codenamed Barreleye, which will be the industry’s first servers that use technology from OpenPower, the Open Compute Project and OpenStack.

Meanwhile, IBM will say it is adding Open Compute Project-compliant systems to its line up of Linux-based Power gear, aiming the hardware at analytics and so-called cognitive applications in the cloud.

And Big Blue will unwrap a second-generation OpenPower server for HPC workloads, developed with Nvidia and Wistron. It will use Power8 processors hooked directly into Tesla P100 GPUs through an NVLink interconnect. ®

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