Rackspace Joins IBM OpenPower, Reduces Reliance on Intel

Company officials said Rackspace's OpenPower move dovetails with other open-source efforts with OpenStack and the Open Compute Project.

data center

Cloud computing company Rackspace, which has relied heavily on Intel to power the bulk of the servers running in its data centers, is now embracing IBM's OpenPower efforts.

Rackspace has been working with the OpenPower Foundation in the background for about 18 months, but is announcing its involvement now and its intention to build a computing platform that is based on OpenPower that will be in line with requirements for the Open Compute Project (OCP) and will run OpenStack services.

IBM and several partners last year launched the OpenPower Foundation, a move by Big Blue to extend the reach of its Power architecture by opening it up and enabling other vendors to build technologies on top of it. The group has rapidly grown its membership to more than 80 vendors, with Rackspace joining a list that includes the likes of Google, Samsung, Nvidia, Hitachi, ZTE and QLogic.

Rackspace officials are turning more to open-source technologies as it looks to continually increase the performance and efficiencies of its data center resources, including its work with OpenStack—the company was a key developer of the cloud orchestration platform—and then with the Facebook-led OCP, which is aimed at designing highly energy-efficient infrastructure systems. In July, Rackspace announced its OnMetal bare-metal cloud service.

OpenPower offers an avenue to address such areas as processors, interconnects and firmware, Aaron Sullivan, senior director and Distinguished Engineer at Rackspace, wrote in the post on the company blog.

"In the world of servers, it's getting harder and more costly to deliver the generational performance and efficiency gains that we used to take for granted," Sullivan wrote. "There are increasing limitations in both the basic materials we use, and the way we design and integrate our systems. … As we were building OnMetal, our single-tenant, bare-metal Cloud Servers, we began to delve into firmware for Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) and systems management, a still-closed frontier. Moving forward, as we consider the performance levels we want to provide customers with future cloud offerings, we'll need to start moving into chips, memory, and storage."

The best way to do that is through collaborative and open efforts, and OpenPower was the perfect venue.

"OpenPOWER brings an increasingly open firmware stack, and deeper access to chips, memory and storage than anywhere else," he wrote. "This is unprecedented, and it invites the open-source community to participate at all layers."

Sullivan has said that Rackspace isn't abandoning Intel, but that it is important to add another architecture—and a more open one—to the mix.

Intel continues to dominate the server chip space, owning more than 95 percent of the market. It also is rapidly building out its portfolio of offerings—with its Atom and Xeon platforms as well as its Xeon Phi coprocessors— for the growing scale-out data center market, which is becoming an increasingly important consumer of processors. Cloud service providers and Web-based companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft run millions of smaller, dense servers in their data centers and are looking for chips that are not only high-performing, but also power-efficient and low-cost.

Rackspace, which has been the subject of rumors about its future, is looking to compete with those companies.