IBM launches industry consortium for Power processors

The company hopes to open up the process of building its Power chips

In a move to boost its Power microprocessor architecture, IBM has formed an industry consortium chartered with opening up the process of building the processors. Called Power.org, the consortium was announced in Beijing today.

Power.org is intended to give IBM's partners better access to the Power technology so they can more easily build things like processor simulators, compilers and algorithm sets. It will also give them a way to develop and share common power components themselves, without having to work directly with IBM, as is now the case.

"This is not just a business partner program," said Mike McGinnis, IBM's program director for PowerPC licensing, "This is a collaboration. It's giving these partners a say in where the architecture is going."

The consortium comprises 15 companies from the software, consumer electronics, automotive and networking industries and includes Sony Corp., Cadence Design Systems Inc., Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd., Novell Inc. and Red Hat Inc. Some prominent Power licensees, like Toshiba Corp. and Apple Computer Inc., weren't on the list, but IBM expects to announce new members in the weeks ahead.

One of the first orders of business for the consortium will be defining an open bus interface specification to be used by vendors that build components like networking or memory processors around the Power core, McGinnis said.

Though IBM is still working out details of the governance model, the organization will be modeled on the Eclipse.org organization that IBM created in 2001 to build a standard set of software development tools. Eclipse has become a popular development environment that's been widely embraced by industry vendors.

"The intent is clearly to have this become an independent entity," McGinnis said. "If you understand what Eclipse is, then you understand what we would like Power.org to be."

Power processors are already used in IBM's pSeries servers and in Apple Computer Inc.'s computers, and IBM has been pushing hard to open them up to new markets. Earlier this week, Sony Corp., Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. and Toshiba announced plans to begin building products on a Power-based processor designed for the consumer electronics market called Cell. The three companies plan to use the processor for game consoles, high-definition televisions and home servers, with the first Cell-based products shipping in 2006.

Last year, Microsoft Corp. announced plans to use IBM's processor technology for future versions of its Xbox game console.

By announcing Power.org in China, IBM is sending a clear message that it would like to work with Asian manufacturers, which will represent the bulk of the new Power licensees, said Richard Doherty, an analyst at The Envisioneering Group, an industry research firm based in Seaford, N.Y. "It is no accident that this announcement was made in China and not in New York or Silicon Valley," he said.

The announcement also puts pressure on Intel Corp., which has been wooing some of the same licensees but doesn't have a similar consortium model for its own processor licensees, Doherty said. "There's probably going to be some head-scratching in Santa Clara over the next few years," he said, referring to Intel's headquarters in California.

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