IBM taps OpenPOWER for SoftLayer bare-metal service

IBM is a big backer of the OpenPOWER open-source hardware project. And it’s the company behind the SoftLayer cloud, so it was only a matter of time before it put the two together by offering SoftLayer bare-metal servers on OpenPOWER-based hardware.

The new service will come online in the second quarter, when pricing details will be made available.

Big Blue launched the OpenPOWER alliance in August 2013 to breathe new life into its POWER8 chip franchise. At that time the only vendor relying on those chips was, um, IBM.

The company managed to line up some big names, including [company]Google[/company], to back this effort. A Google spokeswoman at the time said that OpenPOWER hardware could become an option for use in Google data centers.  [company]Nvidia[/company], Tyan and [company]Mellanox[/company] also backed the OpenPOWER play.

In October, [company]IBM[/company] rolled out a new server built on the POWER8 processor and Nvidia’s GPU accelerator.

While most cloud workloads rely heavily on virtualization to pack more jobs onto less hardware, bare metal servers offer great raw performance (without the virtualization tax). Because the entire computing resource is dedicated to that job, performance can be excellent but the deployment model can be less flexible than virtualized workloads. IBM SoftLayer has offered bare metal capabilities for some time, and last year started offering that option for by the hour.

IBM’s OpenPOWER move comes at a time when name-brand (pricey) servers from IBM, [company]HP[/company] and [company]Oracle[/company][company] are under attack by low-cost white-box providers. Big web scale companies like Facebook and Google do not buy these branded boxes, instead opting to hire contract providers to build servers to their specs. OpenPOWER is an effort to counter that trend.