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Tech Titans Aim To Supercharge Data Center Servers with OpenCAPI

Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and IBM are among nine tech giants coming together to promote a new standard for data center servers. Designed to speed up server performance, the OpenCAPI specification is aimed at helping businesses better handle today’s increasingly data-intensive workloads.

Working together as part of the new OpenCAPI Consortium, the industry partners said they expect that the first products based on the new standards will hit the market in the second half of 2017.

By applying new data-centric standards to server design, OpenCAPI can reduce complexity, eliminate inefficiencies in current architectures and bring compute power “closer to the data,” the consortium said. The group said the specification enables data transfer rates of 25 GB per second, compared to the top speed of 16 GB per second enabled under current standards established by the Peripheral Component Interconnect Special Interest Group.

‘Game-Changing Technology’

The name OpenCAPI comes from “Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface,” a technology developed by IBM to speed up server performance through its Power microprocessor architecture. IN 2013, several tech companies, including Mellanox, Nvidia and Tyan, teamed up with IBM to form the OpenPower Consortium to promote development of technologies that support that architecture.

Mellanox and Nvidia are also among the companies joining the new OpenCAPI Consortium. Other founding members include AMD, Dell EMC, Micron and Xilinx.

Since IBM launched CAPI, “the industry has embraced and validated its potential as a game-changing technology for the most important modern workloads including artificial intelligence, advanced data analytics and deep learning,” IBM Power Development vice president Brad McCredie said yesterday in a statement. “As a result of this initial success, IBM has decided to double down on our commitment to open standards and enablement of industry innovation by opening up access to our CAPI technology to the entire industry.”

“This is big, really big,” Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights and Strategy, wrote today in Forbes. “Acceleration is what all the cool kids are doing.”

New Products Expected Next Year

Yesterday’s news comes on the heels of Tuesday’s announcement about the formation of the Gen-Z Consortium, another industry group aimed at developing and promoting high-performance IT. That organization will focus on creating and commercializing ways to support large volumes of data via a peer-to-peer interconnect that also reduces data processing bottlenecks and costs.

Notably absent from the OpenCAPI Consortium and the Gen-Z Consortium is Intel. TechWeek Europe noted today that it’s likely that Intel will “explore its own ways to improve server performance for emerging workloads and keep its specifications under wraps rather than release them into the open source world.”

Businesses across many industries, including financial services, medical services, Internet services, manufacturing and retail, today face “an immediate need” for faster, better computing performance, according to the OpenCAPI Consortium. That need is being driven by their use of ever-more data-intensive workloads such as advanced analytics, machine learning and other emerging technologies to improve global competitiveness.

Sometime in the second half of next year, IBM said it expects to launch new Power9-based servers that use the OpenCAPI standard. In addition, Google and Rackspace are working together on a new server technology, codename Zaius, that will use the Power9 technology and OpenCAPI standard, while Xilinx plans to support the standard with new OpenCAPI-enabled field-programmable gate arrays.

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