Challenging the Xeon

So what caused us to investigate the IBM POWER8 as a viable alternative to the mass market Xeon E5s and not simply the high-end quad (and higher) socket Xeon E7 parts? A lot. IBM sold its x86 server division to Lenovo. So there is only one true server processor left at IBM: the POWER family. But more importantly, the OpenPOWER fondation has a lot of momentum since its birth in 2013. IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation Partners like Google, NVIDIA, and Mellanox are all committed to innovating around the POWER processor-based systems from the chip level up through the whole platform. The foundation has delivered some tangible results:

  • Open Firmware which includes both the firmware to boot the hardware (similar to the BIOS) ...
  • ... as OPAL (OpenPOWER Abstraction Layer) to boot and launch a hypervisor kernel.
  • OpenBMC
  • Cheaper and available to third parties (!) POWER8 chips
  • CAPI over PCIe, to make it easier to link the POWER8 to GPUs (and other PCIe cards)
  • And much more third party hardware support (Mellanox IB etc.)
  • A much large software ecosystem (see further)

The impact of opening up firmware under the Apache v2 license and BMC (IBM calls it "field processor") code should not be underestimated. The big hyperscale companies - Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Rackspace - want as much control over their software stack as they can.

The resuls are that Google is supporting the efforts and Rackspace has even built their own OpenPOWER server called "Barreleye". While Google has been supportive and showing of proof of concepts, Rackspace is going all the way:

... and aim to put Barreleye in our datacenters for OpenStack services early next year.

The end result is that the complete POWER platform, once only available in expensive high end servers, can now be found inside affordable linux based servers, from IBM (S8xxL) and third parties like Tyan. The opinions of usual pundits range from "too little, too late" to "trouble for Intel". Should you check out a POWER8 based server before you order your next Xeon - Linux server? And why? We started with analyzing the available benchmarks carefully.

A Real Alternative? Reading the Benchmarks
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  • JohanAnandtech - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    Ok, Europe adopt the dot, but maybe the US can adopt the metric system like the rest of the world? :-)
  • bitaljus - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    or better yet recode this site to see from what country u are visiting and use the appropriate denote thousands symbol, appropriate metric system and even time for the viewer. how meany time i was irradiated when i need to google something like this just to make it in local. and this is easy to do in the site natively. (P.S. Sorry for bad English, not native)
  • nils_ - Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - link

    The browser already sends a header with Accept-Language, which should be the preferred way to for the web site to determine locale. For example, I live in Germany so my browser will send en, en_UK, en_US, de and DE (this can be set somewhere in the settings). Now you can determine the language and other localisation based upon that, and there are tools where you can set the locale to then display dates, times etc.. based n that.

    Many sites instead use Geolocation based on the IP address, which can be really awkward when you travel to a country where you can't read the language.
  • ZeDestructor - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    Even within EU it's not consistent.. UK uses commas for thousands, dot for decimal (and that's why the US and most anglophone countries use the same setup), Germany, Netherlands and France on the other hand favour dots for thousands, commas for decimal, so you see it used there.. and in a great number of their former colonies where the language and culture has stuck.
  • nils_ - Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - link

    Dates / Time are even funnier, that's also extremely inconsistent and can be very misleading. Think for examle a date like 12/11/2015, in some countries it'll mean the 12th of November while in others it will mean the 11th of December, and sometimes even the 2015th of November in 11 AD ;)

    I remember reading on the GTA IV in-game "Internet" a travel guide to Europe that said the months here have 12 days but there are 30 months a year or something to that effect ;)
  • powchie - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    let Johan do more reviews. been reading his stuff from late 90's and consider him the best then followed by Anand.
  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    Trust me when I say that if I could whip Johan any harder and make him work any faster I would be doing just that.;-)
  • juhatus - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    When the Balrog showed up for work he had everyone fired.
  • ruthan - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    In summary should be something about software support, raw power is here, but software stack is
    very limited.
    PowerCPU is good for old legacy apps - SAP, Oracle etc.. but otherwise its dead end.
    I would like to see comparision of IBM LPAR virtualization against Xeon Vmware solution, or Oracle / MySQL benchmark on power vs. Oracle benchmark on Xeon.

    Server with Power even cant to run Crysis, or maybe some QEMU magic..
  • ruthan - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    Pleas Ad edit button like other civilized sites, i was hurry when i wrote it.

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