RealTime IT News

IBM's POWER Architecture Gaining Speed

In the latest indication of just how serious IBM is about rallying support for its POWER brand, the company has scheduled an event dedicated to the microprocessor architecture in New York City for the end of the month.

The IBM invitation for the March 31 event calls it "a unique look at the microprocessor that is revolutionizing computing and emerging as a new platform for innovation around the globe."

An IBM spokesperson declined to provide additional detail other than to say there will be a slew of news announcement surrounding POWER architecture.

The event suggests the IT world could be seeing more of the company's vaunted POWER5 architecture, which promises significantly enhanced capabilities for virtualization on a microprocessor.

But analysts aren't so sure IBM is ready to unleash its most ambitious foray into chip construction yet. Redmonk Senior Analyst James Governor said he thinks the event could be IBM "opening its kimono to its POWERPC strategy" for bringing its architecture to bear in Microsoft's Xbox, Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's GameCube. IBM already has a healthy does of its chips in Apple G3 and G5 machines.

Within a year, he predicted, IBM will eventually partner with a large OEM to create a POWER-based PC running Linux. HP beat IBM on that score, signing a deal to offer Linux PCs in Asia with TurboLinux.

"I think it could well be that IBM pulls together its strategic strands for a wide range of POWERPC prospects, partners and customers," Governor told internetnews.com. "This will be IBM putting the nuts to Intel," in touting the strengths and advantages of POWER architecture over Itanium. "I think this will be a volume story, with IBM showing that it has built a strong set of partners around POWER."

POWER is a big part of IBM's plans for improving its enterprise products, partly because, unlike Intel Itanium, IBM's scale between 32-bit and 64-bit addressable computing architecture.

Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said he didn't think the announcements will center around the new architecture, but noted the insistence of IBM to push its POWER message further into the mainstream.

The event marks the second major POWER news from Big Blue this year. At LinuxWorld, IBM displayed Linux on POWER as a major strategy for luring customers away from Intel systems.

According to the Microprocessor Forum, POWER5 is expected to be dual chip, but should feature multithreading features as well, which allow a processor to run two or more parts of a program at once.

This means it will appear to the operating system as four processors even though it is one chip. This is similar to Intel's Hyperthreading technology in its Pentium 4 and Xeon chips.

Governor said virtualization, which allows IT departments to provision multiple instances of operating systems across a single server and manage them through one console, is a compelling feature of the new POWER5, noting that it is IBM's way of bringing mainframe capabilities to the POWER platform.

The concept is having a profound change on the way CIOs and IT administrators consider cost-cutting in their data centers. The call for virtualization has led EMC to acquire leading Intel system virtualization provider VMware earlier this year.

VMware, whose technology has long been used by IBM and HP, recently struck a deal to provide its technology in Dell PowerEdge servers and storage.

One possible addition to the mix is the unveiling of new POWER-based blade servers. This would make sense because not only does IBM view virtualization as a key part of its forthcoming POWER chips, but it is prized for helping multiple blade servers, which pack computing into thin blades to conserve space and energy, work together as a cluster to perform major tasks.

IBM earlier this year unleashed the JS20 blade server, which uses two PowerPC 970 processors and runs Linux. Moreover, IBM is expected to announce blade systems for telecommunications systems.