OpenPower Wants to Be Intel Alternative Here and in China
OpenPower may have an impact on them as well, according to analysts. There won't be much room for more than one alternative to Intel and x86, and OpenPower has the backing of IBM and a more proven data center architecture in Power, Paul Teich, CTO and senior analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK. In addition, longtime Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices—which intends to complement its x86 server chips with ones based on ARM's architecture—hasn't been able to keep up with Intel's pace of innovation. From "the size of the companies competing, their enterprise credibility, their business velocity, and their ability to sustain R&D investment for the hyperscale market and show that they will remain a credible market contender for the foreseeable future, IBM is clearly different from AMD and also from the first wave of ARMv8 (64-bit) server SoC [system-on-a-chip] licensees entering the market," Teich said in an email to eWEEK. OpenPower's technology base "is clearly also a step above AMD and the ARMv8 server SoC licensees," he wrote. "They are leveraging their HPC market ecosystem base, which is quite different from ARM's embedded market base." Teich said ARM and its chip partners have to show how they fit into the server market and how their less powerful processor cores will help organizations with TCO "with respect to 'brawny' Intel and IBM processor cores. … I would guess that Intel and IBM will keep casting ARMv8 SoCs as 'wimpy' cores.""OpenPOWER may be an even greater danger to those hoping to leverage the ARM chip architecture in server and data center solutions [than to Intel]," King wrote in a research note. "After all, OpenPOWER offers many of the same flexible benefits that ARM proponents claim for themselves but the Power architecture has well-established RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability) features and a leadership position in business data centers that ARM can only dream of." In addition, Power has the "continuing support of thousands of business software developers and ISVs and their private and public sector customers. This is not to say that OpenPOWER has punctured prospects for ARM servers or deflated them entirely but we expect that keeping ARM's prospects aloft will become that much harder," he wrote. Intel is making its own moves to develop silicon for the high-performance, energy-efficient systems that are increasingly in demand, from rapid development within its low-power Atom family to its new Xeon D—the first Xeon processor in an SoC model—to innovation around its Xeon Phi co-processors. The company is ramping its custom chip business and offer more versions of new chips. Whether OpenPower can detail any of those efforts remains to be seen. "Competitively speaking, the obvious target for many or most OpenPOWER efforts is Intel," King wrote. "Not only is the company the leader (usually by a long shot) in most business computing target markets but OpenPOWER’s development model (which allows Foundation members freedom to leverage the Power architecture as they wish and to engage chip fabs of their choosing) is markedly different than Intel’s tight control of its intellectual property and manufacturing processes." The push into the China market also will put OpenPower into competition with Intel in that country, where Intel has invested billions in companies and buildings and ramped up partnerships with other vendors, according to Endpoint's Kay. In addition, because of its size, Intel has been able to drive down silicon prices for server OEMs. However, it retains tight control of its technology, and given concerns of China lawmakers over whether the United States is using products from U.S. tech companies to spy on China (mirroring U.S. worries about Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE). Intel's "black box" approach means "you do not get to know exactly what’s baked into those microprocessors. And that is what the Chinese object to," Kay wrote. "One can argue the reasons for China’s increasing insistence on an ownership participation in the technology that it uses, but the fact of it is undeniable." "In the OpenPower vs. Intel case, as of this moment, I’m convinced that, while financial motives play a role, the security principle is the main driver [in China]," he wrote. "Up through now, IBM has not been selling the least expensive technology. Its business model is based on supplying differentiated, critical capabilities that generate healthy margins. Intel has been the firm driving down the raw cost of computing. So, for the Chinese, OpenPower appears to be less about getting a better deal than about controlling the future of computing in China."
Those sentiments were echoed by Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT.