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April 30, 2014

Is Google Sending a Message to Intel by Using Open IBM Power8 Chip in New Server Prototype?

Cloud giant Google indicated this week they are strengthening their partnership with IBM, possibly at the expense of a longstanding relationship with chip giant Intel (News - Alert). The company is getting ready to show off its first home-built server board next week, and Google has offered a sneak preview in which IBM’s Power8 processor is at its core.

The choice is an extension of both companies’ involvement in the OpenPower Foundation, which is IBM’s project for opening the design of its Power chip to be used in new types of servers. Google (News - Alert) is a founding member of the project, and the new Power8 is tailor-made for cloud companies like them, which are rapidly scaling out their data centers and infrastructure footprints. And yet the company has used Intel processors for its servers since 1998, with Wired magazine estimating Google is the fifth-largest Intel chip consumer in the world.

One of the key advantages of the new IBM (News - Alert) processor is its open architecture, meaning that third-party vendors can license the design to create systems geared toward the cloud and IaaS. Intel’s x86 architecture does not allow for such innovation, which has prompted speculation that Google’s choice is sending a message to the chipmaker to keep up with the times.

"We're always looking to deliver the highest quality of service for our users, and so we built this server to port our software stack to Power," wrote Gordon MacKean, a Google engineer and chairman of the OpenPower Foundation, in a post on his Google+ page Monday. MacKean posted a picture of his company’s new Power8 server motherboard with the post. "A real server platform is also critical for detailed performance measurements and continuous optimizations, and to integrate and test the ongoing advances that become available through OpenPower and the extended OpenPower community."

Google has yet to officially confirm that it is using the chip in its new design, and next week will merely show off the motherboard as a test vehicle, so it is unclear whether the cloud company will roll out Power servers in its data centers or is merely “testing the waters.”

Edited by Alisen Downey

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