September 25, 2007

The empowerment of Power

I am in Austin Texas attending the Power Architecutre Developer Conference. While at first blush, we all might wonder why such an ex-technical guy like me is at a developer’s conference; the reasons are in fact of a marketing nature. Although the audience at the conference is obviously a technical one, there is much here to illustrate just what an interesting beast has become. From a sheer marketing perspective, it is compelling to see the likes of IBM, Freescale, AMCC, Cadence, Synopsys, Wind River, and many others all gleefully talking about all different kinds of solutions in many seemingly unrelated markets. Well, unrelated except that the Power architecture is the underpinning for it all.

Not that everyone is talking about one processor, as there seem to be more processors being showcased than the number of fingers on both hands, but there is a singularity in discussion about the broad architecture, whether the solutions are small low power embedded devices, personal computer chips, large server technology, or HPC focused devices. It is interesting to be standing in hallway with signs touting the location of the Cell Hack-a-thon, the POWER6 partition mobility session, the AMCC SATA RAID controller processor, and a networking Sony PS3s tutorial. These along with many other diverse offerings for the automotive, control system, computing, networking, and switching industries, to mention but a few illustrate just how pervasive and important the Power architecture has become.

In a time where there is so much discussion on open standards, and the value of ecosystems and multi-vendor cooperation, it is amazing at times, how relatively few recognize the role that Power plays to this end. Mention Power to most server folks and they will talk about it from the perspective of POWER5 or POWER6 and then tell you that it is only an IBM, or worse, proprietary solution. Funny that the same processor lives inside EMC storage systems, which are definitely not from IBM. Mention PowerPC and many will tell you that was the Mac processor, but Mac is now industry standard with Intel. Yet the many PowerPC based processors from AMCC for networking and storage solutions were never part of any Apple solution, and these products remain very much in the market demand. These are just a couple of examples.

The Power architecture holds a unique, if not ubiquitous position in the marketplace. While the number of attendees (a few hundred) at this developer’s conference would pale in comparison with a big industry trade show, the numbers are impressive when one considers that they are all here from many divergent industries and all are seeking to learn how to gain greater leverage from their investment in the Power architecture. It is hard to think of another platform that garners the interest and support from such a diverse audience. In this era of multi core multi threaded computing, the Power architecture in many cases is the epitome of an industry standard with a thriving ecosystem in which no single vendor dominates all industries.

Given the consolidation in the IT industry of the past few years, it is reassuring that some sectors remain vibrant and competitive, and that a single architectural platform is underpinning so much of the market growth. Despite the continued efforts of some to equate all things Intel as Industry Standard, outside of x86 (which of course, is huge), this assertion seems hard to accept. On the contrary, when considering the wide and far-flung impact of the Power architecture, would not this more closely align with the notion of industry standard, or better yet industries standard?

The Power Architecture Developer Conference is a testimony to the importance of this architecture even thought it will probably only garner secondary news status in the grand scheme of the moment. The fact that its ecosystem is sufficiently rich to support a developer’s conference that spans from the smallest of embedded devices to high performance computing is the front-page news item, but perhaps one that will remain one of the best-kept secrets in the industry.