RealTime IT News

IBM Savors Power Moves Over Rivals

IBM's support for Power.org, a group dedicated to developing software and hardware for IBM's Power chip architecture, could give the company some leverage in its bid to compete against rival chip and server vendors, analysts say.

To trigger innovation in consumer electronics, networking, automotive and computer systems, IBM , Novell , Red Hat , Sony and several others launched Power.org last month.

Dan Greenberg, an IBM spokesman for Power.org, is careful to note that IBM itself did not create Power.org. He stressed the goal was to create an open source environment, taking a page out of the Linux community and Eclipse Foundation to appeal to as broad a participant base as possible.

"We've been a pretty good citizen about open source and open communities," Greenberg said. "We actually took inspiration directly from IBM's efforts in Linux and Eclipse. Eclipse was IBM owned and spun out essentially two years later. Power.org is independent from the start."

What is fueling the interest in Power architecture? Greenberg said embedded applications and IT applications are overlapping and converging, sparking new product developments. He acknowledged that IBM could benefit from having an architecture that could cover anything from video game consoles and computers to enterprise-class servers.

Analysts agree the group is good for the open source community, but make no mistake said Jonathan Eunice, Illuminata founder and analyst, IBM's move was a highly competitive play vs. chip vendors Intel and AMD, as well as server vendors like HP and Sun Microsystems.

"These are commercial entities, seeking their best business outcomes. And sometimes that means some 'enlightened altruism' is in order," Eunice said, noting that an open source organization can indeed help ramp up product adoption for Power parent IBM.

Eunice said IBM's impact on leading x86 vendors, such as Intel and AMD, is that while those chipmakers have an effective de facto standard in the x86 architecture, their activities depend on a very structured and high-volume market with little room for deviation.

This, of course, includes standard PCs, mobiles and servers, and "embedded computing" devices like digital video hubs and recorders that build from the PC designs. But what x86 doesn't do, Eunice said, is fit new form factors and type forms so well.

This could allow IBM to swoop in with its Power architecture and find its way onto cell phones, digital cameras, PDAs, DVRs, set-top boxes, game consoles and automobiles.

"So Power Everywhere and Power.org are attempts to leverage the 'need to customize' on the part of companies targeting important new markets," Eunice said. "And it's a place that Intel and AMD can't easily or won't go."

Eunice said neither HP nor Sun can tap this customizable market, with HP passing its CPU baton to Intel and Sun busy trying to complete its next-generation Niagara and Rock chip architectures.

IBM is already taking advantage of helping companies customize chips for digital devices. For example, Sony is making a Cell processor based on Power that will be used in machines that fuel the digitization of homes, including digital television and home servers. Sony pumped $325 million in IBM's chip foundry to make this work.

Pund-It Research analyst Charles King said Power.org makes it clear that IBM's efforts in the Linux space are seeping in to other parts of the company's business. But he also sees the duality of IBM supporting a group that supports its own chip architecture.

"IBM has the open source religion to a greater degree than any other systems vendor," King said. "They also see that as a way to turn that to their own commercial advantage. Is it a juggling act? Sure, but while they're pursuing their own best interests, they also seem to be doing it in a way that has significant benefits for the open source community, too."

Eunice said this is par for the course these days at Big Blue, noting that IBM has become quite savvy about "giving away to get something in return," and has used that strategy successfully with Linux, Apache, Grid Computing, Web Services, Eclipse.org, etc.

He also agreed with IBM's Greenberg that Power.org mirrors the Eclipse.org project, which has a community of development tool vendors building on an IBM-provided foundation, before it was spun out and became an independent foundation.

Meanwhile, Greenberg said Power.org has received better than expected attention, with 1,400 individual registrants logging on to the Power.org Web site for more information. Greenberg also said more companies are expected to join in the next few months, but declined to say which vendors.

Power.org has roots in an earlier event from 2004. IBM first announced its plans to find placement for Power last March at an event in New York. It's greatest achievements with the architecture have come in its servers.

Since high-end machines based on the Power5 launched, P5 systems are quickly gaining a solid reputation for their strong virtualization capabilities among customers, according to analysts.

IBM's 64-way eSeries p5 595 surpassed three million transactions per minute on the TPC-C benchmark, a measure that beat rival HP in price-to-performance ratio by 37 percent.