That reference architecture, which is still being hammered out, would form a guideline for how to build a PowerPC-based server. It would likely recommend various chips, motherboards and other hardware, and help others create software for them. As part of IBMs vision, Power.org members would contribute all of the bits and pieces, including Linux-based operating systems, allowing companies seeking to create an open Power server to choose from among them. Companies are "looking for the ability to select different processor architectures for servers," Beck said. "And we also see people come in with particular application types."Is there a Cell processor in Apples future? Click here to find out. "Were just now working out with the broader community where we can take this architecture," Beck said. "It has proved so promising in the application work with Sony that we dont really know what its limitations are yet." IBM sees applications in computers for the aerospace, defense and health care industries, among others, Beck said. Mainly, "IBM wants to avoid being boxed into game platforms," Krewell said. "It needs to go out and find out where it can take the technology and apply it to unique applications. There are a lot of chances for that. But theres still a lot of investigative work that needs to be done." Although Power.org has so far appealed to companies such as Xilinx Inc, which has added PowerPC cores to its Virtex II Pro Platform FPGA (field programmable gate array) chips, it wont be without challenges or competitors. Aside from ARM and MIPS, IBM also faces competition from open SPARC as well as more home-grown options from organizations such as opencores.org, an online clearinghouse for open processors. Right now, the market for open-source chips is fairly limited, Krewell said. "Its pretty much niche stuff, only because the open-source cores require a lot more engineering work. You have limited amount of support," he said. "Its good if youre a small company and youre willing to spend the time to make it workor you dont have much to spend." Larger firms are more likely to license a core from a company that will provide them with support, such as MIPS or ARM or IBM. But that might change if "IBM could be the safety net for people who want to do it on their own," Krewell said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.
Cell, which is brand new, has even broader possibilities as far as IBM is concerned. First and foremost, however, IBM wants to make Cell accessible to a broader set of players in the industry.