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IBM to pour $1 billion into Linux-on-Power

Sep 17, 2013 — by Eric Brown 600 views

Following up on last month’s announcement that it would open source its Power processor architecture, IBM announced that it will invest $1 billion in new Linux and open source technologies supporting Power-based systems. While the investment is primarily aimed at cloud and big-data applications, a new Power Systems Linux Center in France will also explore mobile and social computing applications.

At the Linux Foundation’s LinuxCon event today in New Orleans, IBM also announced an expansion of its Power Systems cloud service for development.  The no-charge cloud service will enable more businesses to prototype, build, port, and test Linux applications on the Power platform, as well as applications built for AIX (Unix) and IBM i (EBCDIC) operating systems.

IBM is also expected to help port the Linux kernel-based virtual machine to Power. In addition to these efforts, IBM’s billion-dollar investment “will be applied to various product research, design, development, ecosystem skills, and go-to-market programs for clients, developers, Business Partners, entrepreneurs, academics, and students,” says the company.


While this appears to be primarily an enterprise story, we note with interest that Montpellier center will use Linux and IBM Power7+ processors to support mobile and social business computing development, as well as big data and cloud applications. Although this likely refers to cloud platforms for mobile and social networking apps, it could also signal R&D into future Power-based mobile processors.

Last month, IBM announced an OpenPower Consortium with Google, Mellanox, Nvidia, and Tyan, with an aim of developing open source Power firmware, making Power IP licensable, and generally opening up the Power architecture to more developers. Initially, the consortium will focus on integrating Power with Nvidia’s CUDA GPU technology, which suggests some intriguing specialized Linux-based device and application possibilities.

In today’s Linux announcement, IBM Fellow and VP of Power Development Brad McCredie, noted that IBM’s Linux- and Power-based Watson supercomputer, which gained world attention in 2011 when it beat the world’s top Jeopardy! contestants, demonstrates what’s possible with the Linux-on-Power combination. While such high-end applications have typically used AIX, the choice of Linux suggests an acceleration of the upward migration of the Linux, as well as the continuing decline of its distant Unix-based cousin AIX.

Power is still a big player in the enterprise world where it’s a leader in mainframe-like financial transaction servers. Yet, Intel’s x86 is increasingly dominant on the server side and is taking an early lead in cloud deployments. Although IBM uses x86 processors in some of its servers, it more typically runs its own AIX Unix on Power processors. In the face of Intel’s competition, IBM now appears intent on moving a much greater share of its systems to Linux.

In the embedded world, Power has also seen its market share decline, although it’s still a major player. Here, the competition is not so much from Intel, as it is from ARM. Power Architecture is primarily represented by Freescale PowerPC processors, such as the QorIQ line, which is typically used with Linux on networking and telecom gear. AppliedMicro (AMCC) is another major Power licensee. Both companies, however, appear to be shifting toward ARM, with Freescale tapping ARM for its upcoming QorIQ LS system-on-chip, and AppliedMicro developing an ARMv8-based X-Gene SoC.

Whether or not IBM’s new Linux and OpenPower initiatives filter down into the embedded and mobile world, they will have big impact on Linux and open source technology in general. In 1998, IBM began a major shift toward Linux that arguably made the operating system the enterprise darling it is today.

IBM’s circa-2000 “Peace, Love, Linux” banner


As Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, put it: “The last time IBM committed $1B to Linux, it helped start a flurry of innovation that has never slowed. We look forward to seeing how the Power platform can bring about further innovation on Linux, and how companies and developers can work together to get the most out of this open architecture.”

More information about IBM and Linux may be found at IBM’s Linux page.

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