IBM Looks to Grow OEM Program for Power Servers

IBM, competing with Sun's SPARC and Intel's Itanium processors, is carrying on with its Power Everywhere initiative.

IBM is looking into expanding its program to OEM servers based on its Power architecture, in line with larger initiatives to grow the platform.

IBM already has OEM relationships with Hitachi Ltd. in Japan and French computer maker Bull Computer Corp., which sell not only Power systems but also IBMs Unix operating system, AIX, and related software, said Karl Freund, vice president of IBMs pSeries.

However, IBM is talking with a number of other computer companies that are interested in having IBM make Power systems for them, Freund said in an interview with eWEEK.

"With the phenomenal market growth of Power and [the Power5 processor], we have a lot of interested parties," Freund said. "Its only been discussions, but they are interested in the market performance of Power and AIX."

In the second quarter, IBM of Armonk, N.Y., was the top RISC vendor, according to numbers compiled by analyst firm Gartner Inc. IBM, with more than $1.6 billion in revenue, held 37.68 percent of the market, compared with Sun Microsystems Inc.s 30.72 percent.

Any OEM deals IBM could strike would bring more competitors into a highly competitive space. The Unix server market stands at around $20 billion, and is dominated by IBM with Power and Sun with its SPARC architecture. Its also an area that Intel Corp. is targeting with its Itanium processors.

Freund declined to elaborate on the interested companies or the extent of the discussion, but said that IBM is always on the lookout for ways to expand the reach of the Power architecture in areas where the platform may not currently have a strong presence.

For example, OEMing Power systems for a computer company in Asia would help IBM grow the platform there.

"I cant be specific on what were discussing," he said. However, "its reasonable to expect well grow additional [Power OEM customers]. … Its an integral part of our Power Everywhere push."

IBM has been aggressively trying to grow the footprint of its Power architecture. The company has been touting it as the best platform for running Linux, with its 64-bit capabilities and multicore technologies.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about Suns OEM expansion in the Solaris x86 market.

Last fall IBM launched its OpenPower systems, Power5-based servers specifically built to run Linux operating systems from Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc.s SuSE unit.

Before that, in March 2004, IBM unveiled its Power Everywhere marketing initiative. Central to the program was the opening up of its Power platform to encourage other vendors to develop hardware devices and applications on it.

The goal of Power Everywhere is to get to the point where many types of technology—from the smallest devices to the largest supercomputers, including IBMs Blue Gene/L—are built on the platform, officials said at the time.

IBM also has had success in getting Power chips into game consoles from Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp. and Nintendo Co. Ltd. However, it suffered a setback in June of 2005 when Apple Computer Inc., which had been using PowerPC chips since 1994, said it was going to phase out the chip in favor of processors from Intel Corp.

Apple officials said projected power consumption for future PowerPC chips would make it difficult for them to build Apple systems, adding that they were more attracted to what they saw on Intels road maps.

IBM officials disputed Apples claims. In a June interview with, Rod Adkins, vice president of development for IBMs Systems and Technology Group, which produces IBMs PowerPC chips, said the company could build chips that would fit within Apples power needs for all of its products, including smaller devices such as PowerBooks.

/zimages/6/28571.gifTo read more about IBMs insistence that it could still build chips to suit Apples needs, click here.

Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said OEMing Power systems would benefit IBM, but questioned how relevant it is to the Power Everywhere and OpenPower initiatives.

"Certainly Power Everywhere, to some level, includes OEMing systems, though for the most part its more focused on the use of the Power architecture by various partners in client devices, game consoles, whatever, than it is in computer systems," Haff said. "Power Everywhere and OpenPower are really about using collaborators … to get Power into new types of devices."

Still, regarding more OEM business, "any kind of footprint [expansion] it can generally give Power will benefit IBM as a whole," Haff said.

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