When a Senior Director at Google, Gordon MacKen, showed off new Google server motherboard design based on IBM’s Power8 architecture, it sparked trouble for Intel. Since 1998, Google has used Intel processors based on x86 architecture to power its army of servers, but this sudden move to use IBM’s architecture is a reason for worry at Intel.
The Internet giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon all depend on Intel for their server-related needs. However, the world is changing. Intel no more has monopoly in the processor market. Mobile device shipments has surpassed the PC sales by a huge margin, where majority of PCs are powered by Intel, but mobile segment is dominated by ARM.
Intel has been facing a lot of pressure in the desktop market and this has affected the server side of business at Intel. The Santa Clara based company invests in the development of new chip cores for the desktops only, and then make changes to caches and different memory controllers to make it optimised for servers. So when Intel is not doing good in the desktop segment, the server department takes the heat too.
One major reason for Google to consider Power8 architecture is that it is open platform, where companies can license the architecture from IBM and become a OpenPower partner; subsequently they can make changes to the design as they like and develop motherboards to suit their needs. Google has always promoted open source and open platform, and Power8 could give Google significant freedom to design their own chips, which Intel’s completely closed x86 platform was not offering. Google, IBM and others formed the OpenPOWER Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing an open ecosystem.
Google’s move could have a domino effect as it is one of the largest web companies with a huge infrastructure. Other web companies like Facebook and Amazon could follow Google and move away from Intel. Facebook and Amazon have already shown interest in powering their servers with ARM’s technology. With lot of competition from ARM and OpenPower, Intel needs to focus on innovation and change with the changing times which we have not witnessed at the company yet.