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Competing Billion-Dollar Tech Companies Are Joining Forces. Here’s Why.

The combination of open innovation and accelerated computing represents one of this decade’s most important technology trends. It’s transforming the concept of the closed-off supercomputer to a more diverse open architecture. As a result, companies that haven’t worked together before—and that may, in fact, be competitors—are collaborating together on groundbreaking projects. 

Today’s latest applications require advanced computing power to deliver true innovation. Technology industry leaders now recognize that there’s a limit to what a closed chip environment can deliver. Moore’s law—the classic observation that overall computer processing power doubles every two years—is becoming less relevant as industry demands evolve and modern workloads become more complex. Today, the industry needs an accelerated computing ecosystem that delivers the flexibility to support those changes and the larger, more complicated workloads.

Meanwhile, there’s currently no single set of computing demands at the forefront. Developers and engineers all have their own specific computing demands. They use central processing units (CPUs), graphics processing units (GPUs), and field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to accelerate code in many unique ways, rather than just going in one direction at a faster and faster pace.

As a result, many of the world’s biggest technology companies have begun collaborating—specifically, working together on a platform that can accelerate an entire workload through targeted optimization of each subsystem to drive new levels of innovation.

That collaboration is known as the OpenPOWER Foundation, with the IBM POWER processor architecture underpinning the initiative. The organization brings together more than 170 technology companies, including Google, Mellanox Technologies, NVIDIA, Tyan, and Xilinx. Many smaller companies have joined the organization as well, adding to the diversity of ideas and experience. The OpenPOWER Foundation is enabling IT executives who are responsible for corporate data centers to rethink their approach to technology.

“It comes down to predicting a rate of change in software,” explains Brad McCredie, an IBM Fellow, Vice President of IBM Power Systems Development, and President of the OpenPOWER Foundation. “I think we will see that accelerated computing will be the norm and that software will be developed that way. Of course, we are going to build lots of tools and aids to make it easier and easier to use these hybrid architectures. But this is going to be the new normal and we are going there.”

Others agree. “OpenPOWER is very appealing,” says Scot Schultz, director of high-performance computing and technical computing at Mellanox Technologies. “It’s about keeping on track with open standards instead of having these various silos of proprietary technologies that leaves the industry disconnected with people wondering which direction they should develop. That really does slow down progress.”

IBM Power Systems underpin the IBM Watson cognitive platform, greatly accelerating Watson’s Retrieve and Rank application programming interfaces (APIs) and generating a tenfold improvement in natural language performance.

The IBM Power Systems technology is also enabling breakthroughs in health care. Edico Genome, which developed the DRAGEN processor designed for genomics applications, used the IBM Power platform to work with the Children’s Mercy Hospital of Kansas City, Missouri, sequencing whole genomes to diagnose critically ill newborns. DRAGEN sped up the data analysis time from more than 22 hours to just 41 minutes. That, in turn, reduced the time for diagnosing critically ill infants from 50 hours to just 26 hours.

Ultimately, open innovation is driven by the concept of accelerated computing, which is enabling technology giants and startups alike to collaborate like never before. The OpenPOWER Foundation plans to make the technological advancements resulting from such collaborations widely available. The IBM Power Systems LC family—a line of powerful new servers jointly developed by IBM and several other OpenPOWER members—is just one step in that direction.

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From the latest smartphones to advances in quantum computing, the hardware behind today's digital age is rapidly changing.

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