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.

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