IBM's SoftLayer Cloud Division to Use OpenPower Systems

SoftLayer will begin offering bare-metal servers running OpenPower processors and Linux applications as a cloud service next quarter.

data center

IBM looked to its own back yard as the place to run scale-out servers based on OpenPower processors.

The giant tech vendor's SoftLayer cloud division will add bare-metal servers running the processors to the list of cloud-based services it offers to end users, according to officials. At the same time, it will give the OpenPower Foundation a high-profile user for its processors.

OpenPower was launched in 2013 by IBM and partners such as Google and Nvidia as a way to expand the reach of IBM's Power architecture through an open-source model that lets it run on systems other than those from IBM and to challenge Intel's x86-based chips in the growing scale-out and hyperscale environments. Companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft run huge scale-out data centers populated by massive numbers of servers to deal with such trends as mobile computing, big data, social networking and analytics. They stress flexibility, performance, density and power efficiency in their data center resources, and have a large and growing influence on server and processor design and sales, due to the sheer number of systems they buy.

The idea of OpenPower on bare-metal servers will give organizations another option in the services they use from SoftLayer, according to SoftLayer CIO Sonny Fulkerson.

"The new OpenPower-based bare-metal servers make it easy for users to take advantage of one of the industry's most powerful and open server architectures," Fulkerson said in a statement. "The offering allows SoftLayer to deliver a higher level of performance, predictability and dependability not always possible in virtualized cloud environments."

Chip makers and OEMs are growing their efforts to develop high-performance and highly energy-efficient products aimed at the hyperscale space. Intel is expanding its Xeon and Atom lineups to include low-power processors for these environments, while ARM and its partners—such as Advanced Micro Devices, Applied Micro, Qualcomm and Cavium—see the demand for such systems as an opportunity to gain traction in a market dominated by Intel.

Hewlett-Packard, Dell and other vendors are embracing new server designs and new chip architectures to build systems for scale-out environments, illustrated by HP's ProLiant Moonshot portfolio. HP also is partnering with contract manufacturer Foxconn to build Web-scale servers.

The growth of hyperscale environments is also accelerating the use of systems built by white-box makers like Tyan, Quanta and Wistron, which sell their systems directly to organizations. Last year, these original-design manufacturers (ODMs)—as a group—accounted for 7.8 percent of worldwide server revenues, good enough for fourth on the list of top server vendors, according to IDC analysts. Total revenue growth for ODMs jumped 40.5 percent from 2013, they said.

The OpenPower Foundation, which includes more than 100 members and licenses the Power architecture to third parties, has seen success as it enters its second year. For example, there are reference designs being built and Google is testing its own Power-based motherboard.

For SoftLayer's bare-metal systems, IBM and SoftLayer are working with Tyan and Mellanox Technologies, which builds InfiniBand and Ethernet networking solutions. The systems, which are due in the second quarter, will be based on IBM's Power8 chip architecture and will run Linux applications.

SoftLayer's embrace of OpenPower comes after it began to use Power-based systems last year. The OpenPower systems will first be available in SoftLayer's cloud data center in Dallas, and then will be expanded worldwide.