IBM expands IaaS cloud services to include OpenPower servers

Program expands the bare metal offerings from just x86 to its RISC line of servers.

SoftLayer, the cloud services provider IBM snapped up two years ago, was known for offering "bare metal" Infrastructure-as-a-Service. Rather than giving customers a provisioned service with an OS already installed, such as Azure and AWS, the customer could pick their OS and how much hardware they wanted assigned to it for their cloud services.

Up to now that's been a x86-only service, because was Softlayer was an all-x86 shop until IBM bought it. But with IBM out of the x86 server business and promoting its OpenPower Foundation, SoftLayer is adding bare metal provisioning of Power 8 servers to its portfolio.

The OpenPower Foundation is similar to ARM's licensing model. Any member of the foundation may license the Power RISC processor and other hardware, such as firmware, to make its own systems. The goal is to help server vendors build their own customized server, networking and storage hardware based on the Power architecture.

IBM launched the project two years ago and has racked up an impressive 100 members, including Google, Tyan, Nvidia, Mellanox, Samsung Electronics Hynix, Micron, Xilinx, Emulex, Hitachi, Rackspace and many more.

The hardware to be used at SoftLayer's many data centers will come from motherboard maker Tyan and networking gear builder Mellanox. The systems will be built to run Linux, not AIX, IBM's RISC flavor of Unix. The servers will support custom hybrid, private and public cloud solutions.

The emphasis in servers has shifted from pure performance to performance per watt, as data center operators have become more concerned with power costs, said Jim MacGregor, principal analyst with Tirias Research. But since this is a platform and infrastructure as a service, that's all negated and it becomes a pure performance play. In that situation, IBM has a good counter to the Xeon.

"Some of the performance estimates I've seen it could have anywhere from 20% to up to 50% performance advantage against Xeon, but it is speculative and you also do it at upwards of three times the cost," he said.

MacGregor thinks IBM is just trying to secure its Power market share as the market continues to move toward x86, and ditto for the decision to use Linux instead of AIX. "They're probably doing it because the rest of the industry has moved over to Linux, which is in everything these days," he said.

IBM has not disclosed the pricing for the service. It will at launch in a few months.

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