IBM-licensed servers take aim at Intel's server CPU dominance

3rd-party servers based on IBM's Power architecture will hit the market in early 2015, says IBM exec Ken King. He adds the first Power systems will be aimed at cloud and high-end applications. They'll run on Big Blue's Power8 CPUs.

3rd-party Power CPUs are also expected in time. IBM first announced plans to license Power to third parties a year ago. The company's own Power server sales have been plunging amid a broader decline in UNIX and non-x86 server demand; they fell 28% Y/Y in Q2.

Early supporters for IBM's effort include Nvidia, Samsung, Micron, and most notably Google, which (like other Web giants) buys huge quantities of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) CPUs to power its servers. Power8's proponents claim big performance gains relative to Intel's x86 Xeon CPUs; individual Power8 chips can feature 12 cores and support up to 96 threads.

King says Google, known for its obsession with performance and power efficiency, could be intrigued by the fact Power can support more virtual machines than x86. As with the budding ARM server CPU market, software support will take some time.

Intel, whose server CPU unit towers over the market and is coming off a strong Q2, is trying to counter the Power/ARM threats both by rolling out new low-power Atom server CPUs, and by expanding its custom chip work for Internet clients. Upcoming products will offer more customization by placing an FPGA and a Xeon CPU in the same package.

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Comments (20)
  • TCG,llc
    , contributor
    Comments (470) | Send Message
    Of course, clients are going to support an optional equipment manufacturer/supplier; they're looking for cost realizations from a more competitive environment which will give them greater leverage during negotiations with Intel. The problem for Intel is that IBM is NOT a take over candidate so the threat is REAL!
    28 Jul 2014, 07:38 PM Reply Like
  • Cincinnatus
    , contributor
    Comments (6187) | Send Message
    TCG, they're licensing something that nobody wants.


    "The company's own Power server sales have been plunging amid a broader decline in UNIX and non-x86 server demand; they fell 28% Y/Y in Q2."


    That's on top of a 25% decline in Q1.


    That customers want alternative suppliers is obvious, but so far nothing from IBM has come close to being desirable, and nothing about this licensing changes that.
    28 Jul 2014, 08:18 PM Reply Like
  • Educated Observer
    , contributor
    Comments (3) | Send Message
    Nobody wants this? Really? That's why 35 other companies have joined the OpenPOWER Foundation in just one year.


    NVidia loves bandwidth. POWER8 is king of bandwidth.
    Google designing its own motherboards.


    4x the number of threads per core as Intel. Twice the performance (82x faster for data analytics). Coherent attached accelerator capability. 65% utilization guarantee (vs 15% typically achieved on x86).


    Choice of Linux (Little Endian or Big Endian), AIX or IBM i, PowerVM or KVM. OpenStack.


    FYI: Linux-only boxes are priced the same as x86.


    Lets talk again same time next year.
    29 Jul 2014, 08:40 AM Reply Like
  • Cincinnatus
    , contributor
    Comments (6187) | Send Message
    Nobody wants it. Check the sales figures. If you think NVidia is going to be buying these you're very confused.


    Google isn't designing server cpus. They're designing ASICs. However with Intel's Xeons embedding FPGAs that's likely to take share from custom boards with custom ASICs.


    It's already the "same time next year." This is just a warmed over press release from last August. Click the link in the second bullet.
    29 Jul 2014, 11:07 AM Reply Like
  • Cincinnatus
    , contributor
    Comments (6187) | Send Message
    Here's what Google is going to want and buy.



    "The main advantage of an FPGA, other than its customizability, is that it has monstrously high performance. In much the same way that an ASIC is by far the fastest and most efficient way of processing a specific workload (and thus why they’re used for Bitcoin farming), an FPGA is also very fast and efficient. They’re not quite as fast or efficient as ASICs, but what you lose in speed you gain in reprogrammability (again, ASICs are set in stone at manufacturing time)."
    29 Jul 2014, 11:23 AM Reply Like
  • Educated Observer
    , contributor
    Comments (3) | Send Message
    IBM announced CAPI in POWER8 which in addition to ASIC's, also supports coherently attaching FPGA's. So, I'm not sure why you are saying the Intel approach is better than the POWER8 approach to attaching it ASIC or FPGA? I guess Intel had to follow-up with their own FPGA attachment (in June) after the POWER8 announcement (in April).


    As far as the headline of this article being a year old, I absolutely agree. This was part of the initial OpenPOWER announcement last year. This is not new news.


    As far as sales of POWER8: POWER8 only began shipping at the end of last quarter. During the 2Q earnings announcement in the prepare remarks (, IBM said "First, we launched entry-level, or scale-out POWER8 in June, and had a good start compared to previous cycles. Keep in mind that entry-level is a small portion of the Power business. POWER8 will be introduced into the mid-range and high-end segments over the remainder of the year." So, POWER8 had a good start compared to previous cycles. That sounds like somebody is buying those systems. Also, the bigger iron is still to come "over the remainder of the year". That is why I said lets re-visit again next year to see how things look after that. The POWER7 systems that currently comprise the mid-range and high-end are what accounts for that 28% decline, not POWER8.


    As for NVidia's plans with Power, see



    People are certainly entitled to have a pro-Intel opinion for the entire server industry. But that is not reality. Intel does have a monopoly on the non-Unix, non-mainframe server business, but that does not mean they will put everyone else out of business. Intel has great technology, but they have clear technical disadvantages in some areas. To deny that POWER8 has superior performance over x86 is a denial of the facts. People / companies that spend a lot of money of their servers are not blind to this fact. So, I think it is too soon to declare IBM's Power business "nobody wants it". Lets give it a year.


    Have a good day.
    29 Jul 2014, 05:19 PM Reply Like
  • Cincinnatus
    , contributor
    Comments (6187) | Send Message
    It's the reality of sales and revenues that IBM itself is reporting. The people/companies that you speak of are not blind, and they are voting with their dollars.


    There's nothing here that wasn't claimed for Power 7 and Power 7+. It's the same old "just wait, we'll show you". It's too little, too late, too slow to market, and poor in performance/watt and performance/$. The competition isn't standing still, so giving it another year on top of the year you've already had isn't going to solve anything.
    30 Jul 2014, 12:40 AM Reply Like
  • Just Some Guy
    , contributor
    Comments (2563) | Send Message
    I assume IBM is past its sell-by date and is no longer capable of serious work.
    28 Jul 2014, 07:57 PM Reply Like
  • Matthew Davis
    , contributor
    Comments (4749) | Send Message
    Apple is going to save them...looks like IBM is Apple's Nokia.
    28 Jul 2014, 08:07 PM Reply Like
  • thesahibzada
    , contributor
    Comments (747) | Send Message
    A sinking market for IBM.... they dont stand a chance against INTC dominance.... imagine the migration costs for companies that do switch.... oh and lets not forget not all software will run identically on another brand CPU... so this is not going to happen.


    And anyways Nvidia has their own Tegra.... so they dont really need anyone as far as i can tell
    28 Jul 2014, 08:23 PM Reply Like
  • fns_rd
    , contributor
    Comments (28) | Send Message
    IBM's first mistake was when it sold its notebook line to lenovo. There was no brand like IBM and it was creative in this section, and all real competitors were American.
    IBM's second mistake was alike, this time w x86 server, the real server needed by orgs and people.
    I think soon IBM will sell everything high-tech and starts selling prepared sandwitch to MacDonald and people. :)
    Who wants to win against Haswell Xeons? IBM? can't!!


    28 Jul 2014, 09:12 PM Reply Like
  • alpine
    , contributor
    Comments (2143) | Send Message
    Even for a non-techie like me, it is amazing that IBM's servers, out of the blue, can come and take market share from IBM's truly FinFetted chips. Somehow, I am inclined to think this is yet another ploy by IBM to FUD server purchase decisions at MNCs worldwide, i.e. "no one got fired buying iBM".
    28 Jul 2014, 09:17 PM Reply Like
  • techy46
    , contributor
    Comments (12646) | Send Message
    Too little, too late!
    28 Jul 2014, 10:46 PM Reply Like
  • Grant Payne
    , contributor
    Comments (337) | Send Message
    Early 2015 for meaningful volume ramping. That's a big IF in and of its self. Even if they do come, whether they'll be any good and/or price competitive is also a big if. IBM couldn't do it on its own IP, why would licensing it make all that much a difference? Even if if they manage to win a slice of the market from Intel, by then Intel will have increased its margins further and probably have broken into mobile meaningfully. Yeah I'm an Intel bull.
    29 Jul 2014, 12:43 AM Reply Like
  • kmi
    , contributor
    Comments (4738) | Send Message
    This news released after IBM was unable to sell its server ops. Most likely trying to create buzz to get a better price/momentum, but doubtful this will impact anything anyone anywhere.
    29 Jul 2014, 02:46 AM Reply Like
  • chrisgar
    , contributor
    Comments (97) | Send Message
    IBM has sold it x86 server business to Lenovo.


    IBM has said it will not sell its P/Power business or ZMainframe business. There have been quite a few rumors about IBM selling its Microelectronics division -- but as as now, nothing has happened.


    29 Jul 2014, 11:49 AM Reply Like
  • Cincinnatus
    , contributor
    Comments (6187) | Send Message
    True, but it's difficult to imagine that IBM can turn it around without their own manufacturing operation. There's no one that has been successful in the server space as a fabless chip design firm. AMD sold their fabs and quickly became irrelevant in the server space.
    29 Jul 2014, 12:06 PM Reply Like
  • kmi
    , contributor
    Comments (4738) | Send Message
    Apologies chrisgar, the news I was thinking of was this item:

    29 Jul 2014, 02:26 PM Reply Like
  • Joe Clabby
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
    All of the preceding are very interesting points. Some comments claim POWER architecture is on the way out; others argue that significantly stronger performance will make POWER a big winner. As a technology research analyst let me share the following observations: 1) Intel's Sandy Bridge and successive Xeon v2 chips are a big improvement over the memory limited Xeon chips of the past; 2) Xeon v2 processors can process 1/4 as many threads as the new POWER architecture (which means the new POWER chips can do a lot more work per clock cycle than Xeon); 3) with POWER8 IBM has introduced little endian support -- so now x86 applications can now run natively on POWER architecture (I think this is a pretty big deal as more and more enterprises move to Linux); 4) the Power Systems memory bandwidth is 4X faster than Xeon (which means that significantly more data can be served more quickly to faster POWER8 chips as compared to Xeon); 5) POWER8 can address significantly more cache than Xeon v2 -- with double the amount of L2 and triple the amount of L3 as well as off chip cache (this is important because the closer the data is to the chip, the faster it can be processed); 6) With the new CAPI interface, POWER8 doesn't use as many instructions to talk to other devices (saving tens-of-thousands of instructions and yielding much faster communications to I/O or direct attached devices); 7) POWER8 can attach up to 40TB of flash cache -- think "in memory" databases...
    4 Aug 2014, 01:23 PM Reply Like
  • ephud
    , contributor
    Comments (4747) | Send Message


    No doubt POWER8 has a place but the market seems to be making it's choice. One can only guess at what the cost of such a behemoth must be.
    4 Aug 2014, 01:34 PM Reply Like
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