In blow to Intel’s data center reign, Google endorses IBM’s Power chips

data center

Seeing how a large number of today’s most important data center trends originated from the web-scale crowd, Intel Corp. better take note of Google’s newly publicized interest in IBM Power chips. At an event hosted by Big Blue in San Jose yesterday, the Alphabet Inc. division revealed that it’s teamed up with Rackspace Inc. to develop a new server based on the chip series.

Few details are available about the upcoming machine other than that it’s set to include the next major addition to the family, the Power9, which is expected to become available in the second half of 2017. The design effort marks the latest and arguably most significant development yet in Google’s quiet love-affair with the series, which started at another IBM conference two years ago that SiliconANGLE covered from the show floor. The event saw the search giant debut a proof-of-concept machine that its server engineers had created to test the older Power8 model’s capabilities.

As part of this week’s announcement, Google divulged that the chip series has since become “fully supported” in its hardware development toolchain. As a result, workloads originally built to run on the x86 Intel Corp. chips that historically dominated its data centers can now be ported onto Power-based hardware with relative ease. The company further revealed that its engineers have already taken advantage of the integration to migrate “many” applications, at least some of which are probably running in production judging by the sheer amount of effort that it’s put into absorbing the processor line.

It’s also likely a sizable portion of those workloads fall into the analytics category given that data processing is one of the Power family’s main strengthens. Coupled with the fact that Google’s entire business relies on the massive amounts of information it collects from users, there’s reason to believe that its internal deployment includes quite a few of IBM’s chips. And the company only plans to increase its commitment to the series over time if the new partnership with Rackspace is any indication.

But the revenue that IBM potentially stands to siphon away from Intel as a result pales in comparison to the strategic significance of Google’s endorsement. As one of the world’s largest server buyers, its name carries a lot of weight among its fellow web giants, which, like the rest of the enterprise, have historically also relied primarily on x86 chips. Many of those companies will likely give the Power series much closer consideration in the wake of this week’s news.

If IBM takes full advantage of the situation, its chip series could potentially emerge as a serious contender to Intel processors in a few years’ times. But even with Google’s support, Big Blue still faces an uphill battle against the chip maker, which will spare no expense to maintain its grip on the lucrative data center market.

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