Informing the IBM Community

SuperVessel launch shows OpenPower’s promise


IBM’s announcement this month of SuperVessel, a free cloud for OpenPower research, was significant for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it was made at the OpenPower Foundation Summit, held the week before last in China’s capital, Beijing.

This, in itself, was important. Sales of IBM Power Systems all but dried up in China after Edward Snowden’s revelations about U.S. tech firms’ collusion with the NSA in 2013. At the same time, a fair few western government departments were and continue to be wary of hardware from Chinese manufacturers (and erstwhile IBM partners) like Lenovo for similar reasons.

Either way, Big Blue couldn’t catch a break in the crossfire. However, the OpenPower strategy of allowing third-party manufacturers to make their own Power processor-based systems cleverly circumvents any mutual suspicion.

Taiwan’s Tyan is already selling its Habanero one-socket, 2U Power8 processor-based systems. Indeed, IBM likes these servers so much that it is using them in its own SoftLayer cloud. Other local manufacturers like Inspur and Suzhou PowerCore are set to follow with their own Power-based models.

So for a U.S. server hardware firm to be holding such an event in such a location at this juncture in time was fairly remarkable. Even more notable was that fact that SuperVessel is a locally produced affair. The virtual R&D engine for the creation, testing and piloting of applications (albeit Linux-only ones for now) was created by IBM research staff in Beijing.

The cross-pollination within the OpenPower ecosystem cuts both ways. U.S. firm Xilinx provided CAPI-enabled field programmable gate array (FPGA) accelerators that have been attached to each Power8 node in the SuperVessel cloud.

SuperVessel is divided into online “labs” that focus on key development areas/Big Blue buzzwords like big data, internet of things, acceleration and virtualisation. IBM said that the service’s beta phase had attracted “thousands” of users in the past six months, including developers and students from more than 30 universities around the world.

Closer to home, the UK government inked a £313 million deal with IBM to boost big data and cognitive computing research with OpenPower and Watson.

The cash will be spent at the Hartree Centre, an organisation formed by the UK government’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in Daresbury, Warrington.

Under the terms of the agreement, Big Blue will contribute £200 million’s worth of Power-based tech and at least 24 researchers.

In return, the government made a £113 million commitment to expand the Hartree Centre over the next five years. The centre specialises in high performance computing for scientific research in fields such as engineering and medicine, and assists companies with research and new product development.

Interestingly, IBM partner Lenovo also has a partnership with the Hartree Centre. As part of a computing energy efficiency project also funded by the STFC, it is developing an ARM server powered by 64-bit “Thunder” processors from U.S. firm Cavium.

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