POWER Up with PMC! PMC at the OpenPOWER Summit

Author: Stephen Bates (@stepbates)Stephen Bates

March 17-19, 2015 marked the first ever OpenPOWER Summit, which was held at the San Jose Convention Center. This was an opportunity for the 110+ members of OpenPOWER to get together and showcase the progress to-date in establishing an open CPU/server framework around the Power8 processor and sub-systems. At the same time, this was a chance for non-OpenPOWER companies to learn more about what members are trying to achieve and determine how best to work with this ecosystem going forward.

Overall Impression

If you missed the event, I’ll give you a tour of our demos below, but first here are some of the highlights as I saw them. As you will see, a common theme emerges.

  • Open Server Platforms. The OpenPOWER environment is based on the Power8 processor, which was designed by IBM and is now licensable to third parties who can adapt the design. In addition, IBM is working within this framework to provide source code for all levels of platform control (e.g. firmware, BIOS etc.) that allows server manufactures to quickly debug issues and differentiate at these levels. I spoke to a couple of ISVs who said that access to firmware source is a big deal for them as it enables them to debug issues without depending on support from the CPU vendors. At the reveal section of the keynote, there were OpenPOWER servers from Tyan, Winstron, Rackspace, Cirrascale, Google, IBM, Inspur and Zoom!
  • Open Operating Systems. If I have to take my hat off to any one company at OpenPOWER, it is to Canonical. IBM has a huge vested interest in OpenPOWER success, but Canonical has devoted a ton of effort to this initiative with a much smaller stake in the game. I have now worked on three different OpenPOWER servers, and I can say that it takes some digging before I realize I am not on Ubuntu on an x86 (Geek tip: dig into /proc/cpuinfo to know for sure). Canonical has ported over thousands of apps to OpenPOWER Linux in a matter of months. On top of this, with cloud-specific features such as JuJu and OpenStack, Ubuntu is a really nice fit for OpenPOWER. That being said, other distros are now following suit and expect more of them to be OpenPOWER-ready soon.
  • Open Interfaces. The OpenPOWER ecosystem has opened up a couple of interesting interfaces off the Power8 CPU. One of these is the Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI) and this is a pretty interesting interface for a number of reasons, which I will talk more about below.

Also interesting is that people are figuring out where OpenPOWER can deliver a distinct advantage over its CPU rivals. There is mounting evidence suggesting that, for memory-intensive, high-performance workloads, OpenPOWER servers seem to do very well. The critical thing over the coming months will be to see more signs of adoption of these OpenPOWER systems, like those announced by Rackspace and IBM/Softlayer over the last few weeks, in major cloud vendors’ data centers. China of course also being a key catalyst for developer adoption. If this starts to happen then I suspect a snowball of adoption will occur. Although Google has no public position on OpenPOWER, it appears they are taking a close hard look at it.

PMC at OpenPOWER Summit

PMC had two main objectives at the OpenPOWER Summit:

  1. Ensure our existing products are OpenPOWER-ready. At our booth at the summit, we demoed two PMC products working inside a Tyan OpenPOWER server. In this server we showed both our Flashtec™ NVRAM card and an Adaptec® Series 7 RAID card. In both these cases, we have invested time and effort to ensure these products work in OpenPOWER systems. Dave Berry does a little show and tell in this video.
  2. Explore opportunities for new products based on OpenPOWER-specific features. We have been digging into the CAPI interface quite a bit, and I presented some research findings and released some open-source educational code. We had a live demo of this work based on our Flashtec NVRAM card and a CAPI enabled FPGA accelerator card from Nallatech. Check out my video demonstration.

Showcasing our products working inside OpenPOWER servers and toast to the success of the first OpenPOWER Summit!

Showcasing our products working inside OpenPOWER servers and toast to the success of the first OpenPOWER Summit!

PMC is committed to continuing to explore the OpenPOWER ecosystem and ensure our enterprise storage products work just as well (if not better) in OpenPOWER servers as they do in servers based on other CPUs. At the same time we continue to research what new opportunities exist in the OpenPOWER world. Stay tuned for more updates!

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