The OpenPOWER Saga Continues: Can You Get POWER Inside 1U?by Johan De Gelas on February 24, 2017 8:00 AM EST
Back in April 2016, Tyan has introduced its IBM POWER8-based 1U servers at the OpenPOWER Summit in San Jose, California. The server market is dominated by five OEMs: HPE, Dell, IBM, Lenovo, and Cisco, with ODM Quanta and HPC specialist Supermicro being the challengers. So the fact that Tyan also sells POWER8 servers can hardly be considered a game changing fact. However, Tyan does punch well above its weight. Note that there are only four OpenPOWER POWER8 platforms out there:
- The Wistron's Polaris was the basis for the heavy duty S822LC (see our review here). An improved version, the Polaris Plus was the first Power8 + P100 NVLink, probably the fastest 2U HPC server available (see here).
- The Supermicro "Briggs" which is found in the latest IBM S822LC "For Big Data".
- The Rackspace "Barreleye"
- The Tyan Habanero.
As far as we know, the Supermicro board is only available as an IBM server.
The Rackspace Barreleye is the odd one out: it is 1.25 U (instead of 2U) high, 21 inches wide, and needs the power shelves of "OpenRack". The cool thing is that it is no longer a prototype; it is a server that can actually be bought. This means that those who want to start over and make use of the many advantages of OCP have a real choice between the Intel Xeon and IBM POWER. Such servers - even in low quantities - are available from Penguin Computing (Magna 1015), Mark III systems, and Stack Velocity.
Of course, most datacenters are not switching to OCP racks (yet). If you want a standard 19 inch wide OpenPOWER server, there is a pretty good chance your server is based upon the Tyan Habanero. Habanero was not only the platform in most of the Tyan POWER8 offerings, but it is also the board that can be found inside the IBM S812LC and the Penguin Computing Magna 2001. Of course, the OpenPOWER server market is still a young and small market, but Tyan did have quite a bit of impact.
So when we saw that Tyan made a 1U server based upon this Habanero platform, that caught our eye. The power-hungry POWER8 inside a density optimized form factor? And they feed it with a PSU of "only" 750 W? Remember, most POWER8 servers come with 1000+ Watt PSUs.
OpenPOWER: Survive or Thrive?
Now at this point you may be asking: yet another article about OpenPOWER? Isn't all effort going to waste as IBM's piece of the server market is shrinking and Intel reigns supreme? Why would IBM be able to succeed where so many others have failed?
We are among the first to recognize that Intel still rules the server world, and that there is no alternative to the midrange Xeon E5 when you want the best performance-per-watt available. Furthermore the arrival of servers based upon AMD's Naples CPU will put even more pressure on all non-x86 server CPU alternatives, as it is expected to ship with up to 32 cores, 64 thread, offer 8 DDR4 channels and integrate no less than 128 PCIe lanes. And in the long-run (and perhaps most importantly), it will force Intel to come up with better performance/watt/dollar offerings, ratcheting up the pressure on non-x86 server CPUs even further.
As important as performance-per-watt is, several markets – HPC, Analytics, and AI chief among them – consider absolute performance the most important metric. Wattage has to be kept under control, but that is it. Who cares whether the CPU is consuming 200W or 120W when it is placed in a machine with a Terabyte of RAM and two 300W GPUs?
The fact that Rackspace and Google have invested quite a bit in the "Barreleye" and will continue to do so is a good sign (there is a POWER9 Barreleye) but not a guarantee. Both companies and all large datacenters still rely on Intel Xeons for the foreseeable future. The experiment can quickly be terminated.
However, the announcement that China's largest Internet portal – Tencent – will also be using OpenPOWER servers is another sign that the OpenPOWER technology convinces people that it is a viable alternative. At first, the deal was just to license the affordable IBM S822LC (made by Supermicro) to the Chinese reseller Inspur, and Inspur – being a "local" reseller – would sell it to Tencent. However, this deal spurred Inspur to begin developing their own OpenPOWER products. Consequently, OpenPOWER is allowing IBM and partners to break into the fastest growing server market: China. The openness of the software and hardware ecosystem and the strong performance of the CPU cores puts OpenPOWER is a very unique position in China compared to both Intel and ARM. That is a very solid business plan if you ask us.