However, the three groups are trying to eliminate potential design pitfalls by pulling together communities around their respective efforts. Aside from hosting a community that includes chip designers, chip manufacturers and even contract device manufacturers, Power.org has also been forming committees to device design specifications. Those specifications, it says, will make it easier to create products such as a PowerPC-based server. The specifications, which arent yet available, would allow companies to use Power.org as a conduit to create products. A server maker, for example, could use Power.orgs specs and its chip, design and manufacturing services, to help put out a new PowerPC-based model.OpenCores.org, which bills itself as the worlds main source for open processor cores, is pursuing a similar aim. The site, which plays host to about 320 chip projects and just over 1,700 chip developers and sees about 3 million Web hits and about 50,000 downloads per month, offers a variety of processors, including a 32-bit OpenRISC Processor, developed from scratch by OpenCores founder, Damjan Lampret. The core comes with a complete set of development tools and has its own versions of Linux and eCos as well. "This is a dynamic community," Lampret said in an e-mail to Ziff-Davis Internet. "Some projects have more keen developers, some are somewhat commercial-related, some are more academic projects or of a research nature, some are hobby. We dont make any rules [about] what the project has to be." Several OpenCores affiliates, including Flextronics Corp.s Flextronics Semiconductor division, sponsor the site and offer various forms of design and manufacturing assistance. SPARC International takes a somewhat different approach than the other two organizations. Its SPARC processor architecture is open in that its maintained by the independent body and anyone can download specifications and use them to design a chip. But it only provides technical support to licensees and those licensees are the only ones that can legally brand their chips as SPARC-compliant. SPARC International charges licensing fees it says are relatively low. Its 64-bit SPARC V9 core can be licensed for $30,000, while its 32-bit SPARC V8 can be had for $25,000, said CEO Karen Anaya. Sun Microsystems Inc. might be the best-known user of SPARC processors. But the architecture is used in numerous devices and has even been to space. The European Space Agency, for one, has based its LEON chip on SPARC. It recently released a new radiation-resistant LEON chip, based on the SPARC V8 core, for testing. A SPARC processor core shows up much closer to home in Infrant Technologies Inc.s storage gear. SPARC International has seen interest in its offerings pick up of late, Anaya said. She likened the level of interest in open processors to a roller coaster moving uphill, before being released on its way. Lampret says hes seen a similar trend. "Open hardware, or more specifically open cores for chips is much younger [than Linux] and it has potential to grow in the future," he said. "In the hardware industry you need more initial investment so open hardware will probably always have a small user base. Nevertheless, I think the current trends clearly show that the open source hardware, well, more precisely the open cores (i.e. for chip design), is growing." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.
"The idea is we make servers on top of this architecture and [the effort] makes servers less expensive," he said.