IBM, Google, Others Push OpenCAPI Spec for Data Center Workloads

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2016-10-14 Print this article Print
data center

Big Blue uses its CAPI interconnect in its Power 8 processors to improve connectivity between the chips and accelerators, like Xilinx's FPGAs. However, OpenCAPI would bring greater standardization to the industry and, as an open technology, would accelerate innovation, consortium members said. There already has been work around an OpenCAPI specification, and some vendors already have plans to use it in upcoming products. IBM in the second half of 2017 will roll out Power 9-based servers that will use OpenCAPI, and members of the OpenPower Foundation will be able to roll out their own OpenCAPI-enabled products around the same time.

In addition, a new server being developed by Google and Rackspace—called "Zaius" and introduced earlier this year at the OpenPower Summit—will use Power 9 chips and will include the OpenCAPI interface. Mellanox also will make future products OpenCAPI-enabled, and Xilinx will support the standard in its upcoming FPGAs.

The absence of Intel in the group will be a challenge. The bulk of servers today run on the vendor's x86-based processors, and the company is going its own way in regard to interconnects and fabrics, from its Omni-Path architecture to silicon photonics, which Intel officials said will be ready to ship in modules this year.

However, other companies are looking to chip away at Intel's dominance in the data center. ARM and partners like Qualcomm, Applied Micro and Cavium are pushing the low-power chip architecture for systems, AMD is making another run at the server space with its upcoming "Zen" microarchitecture, and IBM—both with its Power chips and through the OpenPower Foundation—also is looking to become the top alternative to Intel in the data center.

Such efforts like OpenCAPI, OpenPower, Gen-Z and Facebook's Open Compute Project, as well as the rise of such components as GPU and FPGA accelerators, are indications that despite the talk of software-defined data centers, there is a need for new architectures, which can put a smile on the face of a hardware guy like McCredie.

"Hardware is now at the forefront again," he said. "It's sexy again."



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