IBM's Softlayer cloud to tout bare-metal Power8 boxes by the summer

OpenPower pals Tyan and Mellanox slotting in the gear behind the scenes

If you're dying to boot up bare-metal Power8-powered servers hosted in the cloud, today's your lucky day, and not in a I've-got-a-winning-lottery-ticket-outta-here sorta way.

On Wednesday IBM will announce that its Softlayer public cloud will offer bare-metal Power8 servers as part of its ongoing OpenPower push. If you really, really want to run big-data-crunching apps on the Power8 architecture, and you don't want to fill data centers with machines and cables and sysadmins, leave it to Softlayer – that appears to be the message, anyway.

Softlayer offers Intel Xeon-powered bare-metal servers in the cloud even after IBM ejected its x86 server business to Lenovo. Offering bare-metal Power systems is a first, however.

Motherboard maker Tyan and InfiniBand networking gear builder Mellanox, both OpenPower Foundation members, are supplying the hardware for this new infrastructure-as-a-service. The systems will be built to run Linux.

The bare-metal servers should be available between April and June this year, we're told; pricing and system specifications will be confirmed when the cloud-hosted hardware hits general availability.

"This news is a curtain raiser for the upcoming OpenPower Summit [in San Jose] where more than 100 members will come together to discuss the progress around OpenPower," a spokesperson for IBM told The Register.

OpenPower is a consortium of companies around the world that are, essentially, helping IBM push its Power processor architecture into Intel-dominated data centers. Like the ARM licensing model, Big Blue keeps control of the instruction set while others license the architecture to develop their own Power-powered machines. Nvidia is on board to provide fast NVLink interconnects.

It's still very early days for OpenPower. New machines are expected to show up at the aforementioned summit, starting March 17.

While we're waiting for Power9 processors to arrive around 2017, for that is when IBM is due to ship the chips to the US Department of Energy, Power8 is Big Blue's most powerful microprocessor, and it competes against Intel's Haswell-EP and Ivy Bridge-EP Xeons.

"IBM can beat Intel’s fastest Xeon E5-2600v3 on application workloads that benefit from high memory bandwidth," Linley Group analyst Tom Halfhill noted in Microprocessor Report at the end of 2014.

"Although Xeon may score a little better on some narrow CPU-level benchmarks, those differences are insignificant. In power efficiency, however, the latest Xeon processors remain well ahead of Power8, even on large applications.

"One of Power8’s handicaps is the additional power (40–80W) required for its memory-buffer chips, but those external controllers enable the 6x greater DRAM bandwidth that makes Power8 so impressive when shouldering heavy workloads."

Softlayer was bought by Big Blue in 2011 (a $2bn deal that completed in 2013) to take on Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure. IBM execs have vowed to spend $4bn on cloud, data analytics, mobility, social networking, and security in 2015, in hope of growing those segments to $40bn in annual revenue by 2018. ®

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