OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

By John Russell

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instruction set (ISA) and Open Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (OpenCAPI) and Open Memory Interface (OMI). That’s also when IBM said OpenPOWER would become a Linux Foundation entity. Then a few weeks ago, OpenPOWER named a new executive director, James Kulina.

Change is afoot at the OpenPOWER Foundation. Will it be enough to prompt wider (re)consideration and adoption of the OpenPOWER platform and ecosystem?

James Kulina, executive director, OpenPOWER Foundation

The big gun here historically has been IBM, which with Google, Tyan, Nvidia, and Mellanox, founded the OpenPOWER Foundation in 2013. It was meant to challenge Intel’s processor dominance in servers and HPC and to offer an alternative. Not surprisingly, creating a new ecosystem turns out to be hard. For one thing, IBM was the lone Power chip provider sometimes making OpenPOWER seem like just another IBM venture. That’s probably unfair and certainly understates the formidable capabilities of IBM’s Power microprocessor (think Summit supercomputer) and the technical strengths of OpenCAPI and OMI (Open Memory Interface).

One has to admire IBM’s pluck in dumping virtually all of its x86-based systems businesses for a big bet on IBM Power microprocessors and OpenPOWER generally.

That was then. This is now. For many reasons – let’s just lump them together as insufficient market traction – IBM now looks to be deemphasizing its bet on OpenPOWER and passing the torch or at least a big chunk of the torch to others. A strong piece of evidence is that a successor to the Power9 processor (Power10) seems long overdue. Indeed, Kulina has written in a blog introducing himself, “It’s my goal to make OpenPOWER one of the easiest platforms to go from an idea to a silicon chip.”

That means getting more Power chips from more silicon providers as has sometimes been discussed if not aggressively pursued in the past. The sudden emergence of processor diversity (AMD, ARM, RISC-V) and slight loosening of Intel’s grip on the market suggests the window for alternatives is open. Performance and price will be critical.

The question is: Can what often seemed like an IBM-plus-a-few-friends club transform into a thriving ecosystem that captures meaningful pieces of the HPC, mainstream server, cloud, edge, and perhaps other market segments. OpenPOWER currently reports it has 350-plus members, 150 OpenPOWER-ready certified products and 40 OpenPOWER systems shipping or in development. Kulina has high hopes for expansion and recently discussed his plans for growth with HPCwire. Presented here are a few of his comments.

HPCwire: OpenPOWER generally been seen as IBM centric and mostly a way to push its chips and systems. Is that wrong?

James Kulina: I actually would agree with you that historically the connotation has been this is an IBM pet project. If you talk to IBM, they don’t want that.  I think the announcement last year actually sets us up for that – the next chapter where we can actually go and be this fully independent entity, where we can build out an ecosystem, both hardware, silicon hardware, systems and software. Being under the Linux Foundation gives us access to the latest and greatest open source software technologies and knowledge of how to actually build out really sustainable ecosystems.

So that’s kind of where I come from anyway. We want to be viewed as an independent entity. We want people to come to the OpenPOWER Foundation to adopt the technology, the Power ISA, and all the other peripheral technologies that can spin out of that. We don’t want it viewed as, “we’re coming to IBM first and OpenPOWER is just this thing that sits off the side.” That’s not how it’s going to be moving forward.

We’re actually going to be proactive in our approach towards building out an ecosystem. To get to the idea that I framed around silicon, that’s part of it. We need to have more people actually building chips. I think before a lot of companies were just waiting to see what IBM would do with its silicon with the power architecture. But now, including geopolitical [forces] and whatnot, you see a lot of interest in having a fully open source, architecture and ISA to adopt and actually develop [their] own domestic chips. [For example], a lot of companies out of China and other areas are already asking about power, and I’m very interested in it. [That] will lead to really good things because anybody can get involved in taking the Power ISA and customize as long as they stay within compliance.

HPCwire: That seems like a lot to tackle. What makes you think OpenPOWER can pull off a successful restart that avoids past missteps?

James Kulina: I’ve been following OpenPOWER for a while now, actually, since it started. I’m very interested in hardware in general and early in my career I did hardware design. I always wanted to get back into it and have always thought the success of open source software could now lead to [success in] open source hardware. The software folks have [built] roadmaps. It is different because hardware is different. The cost structure is different – how you sell and buy and all that stuff – but there’s a lot of learnings that we can utilize in terms of talking to actual silicon vendors.

I’ve had preliminary talks about who we might want to go after, and what we might want to want to do with them. But it’s really going to be around showing the value first of the architecture showing the use cases that it can benefit from Power. As well as I think software is a very key component in making sure that people don’t have any reservations about adopting a new platform. So our goal, my view is our goal as a foundation is to de-risk as much as possible, to think three to four steps ahead, and to try to take out any of those barriers that might be preventing people from adopting the technology.

HPCwire. What do you see as the advantages the Power ISA set brings to the market. What distinguishes it from existing architectures, particularly given we seem be entering an emerging era of processor diversity with many aspirants?

James Kulina: The first [advantage] is that it is a mature technology. It’s not still being ratified, like RISC-V. Now RISC-V is a great project and we’re happy to be involved with them, but it’s still nascent. The Power architecture is, you know, running the two fastest supercomputers in the world already. It has a proven software ecosystem, although I still think that that can be drastically enhanced in terms of what type of software is running. We need to cozy up more towards the things that a lot of your average developers would be interested in, not just HPC developers. There’s a lot of room for growth there and a lot of interest.

So OpenPOWER is a mature ecosystem. It’s the fact that we have the OpenCAPI initiative. Hopefully that will be merging with the other 410 or however many other [standards efforts] that are basically doing the same thing – CXL (Compute Express Link) and all that. It’s things that we have that are already fairly mature and production grade and enterprise grade, and fully open source. One great thing we have is that you are patent-protected under the structure we have. That makes it a lot easier for people to actually adopt and consume [OpenPOWER] technology and to add extensions.

HPCwire: Can you give us a few examples of specific use case areas that you think Power is well suited for?

James Kulina: The low hanging fruit still is HPC and enterprise but there are others we want to understand better. I’m still coming up to speed on them – where do we actually stand in other use cases and other segments, such as telecommunications, such as networking, such as edge computing, AI, and, and the like. This is where by being part of the Linux Foundation we get an inside track into all of those segments because they’re leaders in driving software that’s running these [segments]. We’re already starting conversations with top leaders and those projects to see how we can create a feedback loop between us so we know what we need to start building into our technology so that their members can actually adopt.

HPCwire: How about nearer term plans for the Power10 processor? We’d been expecting either more Power9 options or the Power10 introduction by now. Arm and AMD have been gaining momentum while the Power chip line seems stuck.

IBM Power9 microprocessor die

James Kulina: I’m not really plugged into what IBM is doing there. You’d have to talk to IBM directly about that. I will say it’s going to be a fantastic chip. But you know, this is why we want multiple vendors for silicon. I think the Googles of the world, the hyper scalars of the world, wanted to see multiple vendors as well. And there’s a lot of people in the middle, right, that want that kind of technology that don’t have the resources and this is where I think we can have a groundswell of support around a fully open source platform.

HPCwire: It sounds like you’re expecting the OpenPOWER platform to expand beyond HPC.

James Kulina: We’re not abandoning HPC at all. There’s a lot of work that we can be doing in HPC. I honestly believe a lot of the technologies happening in the cloud space are going to be pushing into the HPC space. You’re already seeing containers and Kubernetes being adopted in HPC. You know, they’re now adopting things that traditional HPC workload managers have been doing. There’s going to be a merging, I think, of these spaces. That’s actually a good thing because then you don’t have silos and can have workloads being fully portable between HPC environments as well as cloud native environments.

So we want to make sure that we have irons in both fires there. But I definitely think there’s a lot of momentum with RISC-V. There’s a lot of momentum for Arm and AMD and that’s because they have platforms that are readily accessible to the developer community. That’s always been a struggle for the OpenPOWER systems because it’s such an enterprise grade system. It’s such a beast of a system and really can do a lot of great things but we need to have multiple silicon vendors so we can actually gain access to a wider swath of developers.

HPCwire: What sorts milestones are you setting for yourself for the next 6-12-18 months. What are you hoping to get done?

James Kulina: I think in the first couple months we need to think through organizational issues in terms of work groups. How do we architect our work groups? I want them to be more around use cases and segments and not just focused specifically on technologies. It makes it a lot easier for members if they can understand what is what’s in it for them, and where they fit and how they can gain value.

The first thing is just getting organized in a way so that we can truly scale it. After that, it’s more about interfacing with silicon providers, IP houses, as well as fab houses. I think at every layer of the stack in the pipeline we want to see what we can do to make it easier to build new silicon as well as systems and getting the right people in the room to talk things through and have those feedback loops be as efficient as possible. My hope is that within a year or a year and a half, we actually have another silicon provider out there. And, you know, to give us some breathing room in terms of showcasing how an ecosystem can then grow even further from that.

HPCwire: Do you hope to include having silicon targeting broader segments?

James Kulina: That’s my goal. Whether it’s going to happen in a year or two years might be too early.

HPCwire: What do you think are the most pressing challenges?

James Kulina: The first thing is showcasing the use cases and the value proposition and getting organized into a state where we can scale. The next thing is more about access. So getting systems to people and getting to developers in particular, getting integrated with all the key open source groups and making sure that Power architecture is a first class citizen; it’s already a first class citizen in the kind of languages and the kind of software that people are actually caring about. Then it’s getting silicon providers on board and investigating power and then hopefully adopting power and producing new chips.

There’s also an education piece, a curriculum piece that we need to focus on as well. We have a fully open source platform, which is ready and it’s very useful in the academia world as well as in the commercial space, you can have people go from the nuts and the bolts all the way up through the sack and see how everything works. We’re working with a number of universities to figure out how we can actually put together a curriculum. And how can we make that accessible not just for the students there, but also globally. There’s a lot of stuff that we can do in terms of, you know, events and meetups, and hackathons and all that.

HPCwire: Are there any specific synergies between Red Hat (IBM) and OpenPOWER?

James Kulina: Well, they (Red Hat) have an internal multi-architecture group and are already testing across the Power architecture. There’s a lot more we can be doing. It boils down, again, to getting access to Power systems. I think that a lot of Red Hatters don’t have access to it. So this is one of the things now that Red Hat’s part of IBM that will help out.

HPCwire: Could share a little bit more about how you came into the position?

James Kulina: I’ve been following OpenPOWER for quite some time and I saw the announcement last year. In my previous role, I co-founded an open source cloud startup called hyper.Sh and we were acquired last year by Ant Financial, which was Alibaba. I was going through that transition and they eventually asked me to relocate to China. I said no for a number reasons and took a couple months off and saw that OpenPOWER had announced it fully open sourced the Power ISA. I reached out to Hugh Blemings, former OpenPOWER executive director and now an OpenPOWER board advisor), who I’ve known for a while through the open source ecosystem, and said, “Do you need any help because this is, this is awesome; it is actually what needed to happen six years ago.” Hugh said, actually, we do and it kind of kicked off from that.

Brief Bio of James Kulina
James is Executive Director of the OpenPower Foundation, with over 10 years of open source experience across hardware, software, and network engineering disciplines. James brings a passion for open source and is committed to growing OpenPower Foundation’s membership, community, and ecosystem. He is a serial entrepreneur with a background in enterprise technology and has worked in roles spanning operations, business development, product management, and engineering.

Previously, James was co-founder and COO at, an open source cloud-native virtualization startup acquired by Ant Financial. Prior to that, he led product management in Red Hat’s OpenStack group, and was a product lead on AT&T’s first OpenStack Cloud. James graduated from University of Virginia with a degree in Electrical Engineering and is based in New York.

Link to article on the A21 core design just put into open source:

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

University of Chicago Researchers Generate First Computational Model of Entire SARS-CoV-2 Virus

January 15, 2021

Over the course of the last year, many detailed computational models of SARS-CoV-2 have been produced with the help of supercomputers, but those models have largely focused on critical elements of the virus, such as its Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Pat Gelsinger Returns to Intel as CEO

January 14, 2021

The Intel board of directors has appointed a new CEO. Intel alum Pat Gelsinger is leaving his post as CEO of VMware to rejoin the company that he parted ways with 11 years ago. Gelsinger will succeed Bob Swan, who will remain CEO until Feb. 15. Gelsinger previously spent 30 years... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Roar Supercomputer to Support Naval Aircraft Research

January 14, 2021

One might not think “aircraft” when picturing the U.S. Navy, but the military branch actually has thousands of aircraft currently in service – and now, supercomputing will help future naval aircraft operate faster, Read more…

By Staff report

DOE and NOAA Extend Computing Partnership, Plan for New Supercomputer

January 14, 2021

The National Climate-Computing Research Center (NCRC), hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), has been supporting the climate research of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the last 1 Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using Micro-Combs, Researchers Demonstrate World’s Fastest Optical Neuromorphic Processor for AI

January 13, 2021

Neuromorphic computing, which uses chips that mimic the behavior of the human brain using virtual “neurons,” is growing in popularity thanks to high-profile efforts from Intel and others. Now, a team of researchers l Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Now Available – Amazon EC2 C6gn Instances with 100 Gbps Networking

Amazon EC2 C6gn instances powered by AWS Graviton2 processors are now available!

Compared to C6g instances, this new instance type provides 4x higher network bandwidth, 4x higher packet processing performance, and 2x higher EBS bandwidth. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Intel Keynote Address

Intel is the foundation of HPC – from the workstation to the cloud to the backbone of the Top500. At SC20, Intel’s Trish Damkroger, VP and GM of high performance computing, addresses the audience to show how Intel and its partners are building the future of HPC today, through hardware and software technologies that accelerate the broad deployment of advanced HPC systems. Read more…

Honing In on AI, US Launches National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office

January 13, 2021

To drive American leadership in the field of AI into the future, the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office has been launched by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The new agen Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

Pat Gelsinger Returns to Intel as CEO

January 14, 2021

The Intel board of directors has appointed a new CEO. Intel alum Pat Gelsinger is leaving his post as CEO of VMware to rejoin the company that he parted ways with 11 years ago. Gelsinger will succeed Bob Swan, who will remain CEO until Feb. 15. Gelsinger previously spent 30 years... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from I Read more…

By John Russell

Intel ‘Ice Lake’ Server Chips in Production, Set for Volume Ramp This Quarter

January 12, 2021

Intel Corp. used this week’s virtual CES 2021 event to reassert its dominance of the datacenter with the formal roll out of its next-generation server chip, the 10nm Xeon Scalable processor that targets AI and HPC workloads. The third-generation “Ice Lake” family... Read more…

By George Leopold

Researchers Say It Won’t Be Possible to Control Superintelligent AI

January 11, 2021

Worries about out-of-control AI aren’t new. Many prominent figures have suggested caution when unleashing AI. One quote that keeps cropping up is (roughly) th Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Files Patent on New GPU Chiplet Approach

January 5, 2021

Advanced Micro Devices is accelerating the GPU chiplet race with the release of a U.S. patent application for a device that incorporates high-bandwidth intercon Read more…

By George Leopold

Programming the Soon-to-Be World’s Fastest Supercomputer, Frontier

January 5, 2021

What’s it like designing an app for the world’s fastest supercomputer, set to come online in the United States in 2021? The University of Delaware’s Sunita Chandrasekaran is leading an elite international team in just that task. Chandrasekaran, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, recently was named... Read more…

By Tracey Bryant

Intel Touts Optane Performance, Teases Next-gen “Crow Pass”

January 5, 2021

Competition to leverage new memory and storage hardware with new or improved software to create better storage/memory schemes has steadily gathered steam during Read more…

By John Russell

Farewell 2020: Bleak, Yes. But a Lot of Good Happened Too

December 30, 2020

Here on the cusp of the new year, the catchphrase ‘2020 hindsight’ has a distinctly different feel. Good riddance, yes. But also proof of science’s power Read more…

By John Russell

Esperanto Unveils ML Chip with Nearly 1,100 RISC-V Cores

December 8, 2020

At the RISC-V Summit today, Art Swift, CEO of Esperanto Technologies, announced a new, RISC-V based chip aimed at machine learning and containing nearly 1,100 low-power cores based on the open-source RISC-V architecture. Esperanto Technologies, headquartered in... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Azure Scaled to Record 86,400 Cores for Molecular Dynamics

November 20, 2020

A new record for HPC scaling on the public cloud has been achieved on Microsoft Azure. Led by Dr. Jer-Ming Chia, the cloud provider partnered with the Beckman I Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

NICS Unleashes ‘Kraken’ Supercomputer

April 4, 2008

A Cray XT4 supercomputer, dubbed Kraken, is scheduled to come online in mid-summer at the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS). The soon-to-be petascale system, and the resulting NICS organization, are the result of an NSF Track II award of $65 million to the University of Tennessee and its partners to provide next-generation supercomputing for the nation's science community. Read more…

Is the Nvidia A100 GPU Performance Worth a Hardware Upgrade?

October 16, 2020

Over the last decade, accelerators have seen an increasing rate of adoption in high-performance computing (HPC) platforms, and in the June 2020 Top500 list, eig Read more…

By Hartwig Anzt, Ahmad Abdelfattah and Jack Dongarra

Aurora’s Troubles Move Frontier into Pole Exascale Position

October 1, 2020

Intel’s 7nm node delay has raised questions about the status of the Aurora supercomputer that was scheduled to be stood up at Argonne National Laboratory next year. Aurora was in the running to be the United States’ first exascale supercomputer although it was on a contemporaneous timeline with... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Hires Longtime Intel Exec Bill Magro to Lead HPC Strategy

September 18, 2020

In a sign of the times, another prominent HPCer has made a move to a hyperscaler. Longtime Intel executive Bill Magro joined Google as chief technologist for hi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from I Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers


Programming the Soon-to-Be World’s Fastest Supercomputer, Frontier

January 5, 2021

What’s it like designing an app for the world’s fastest supercomputer, set to come online in the United States in 2021? The University of Delaware’s Sunita Chandrasekaran is leading an elite international team in just that task. Chandrasekaran, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, recently was named... Read more…

By Tracey Bryant

Top500: Fugaku Keeps Crown, Nvidia’s Selene Climbs to #5

November 16, 2020

With the publication of the 56th Top500 list today from SC20's virtual proceedings, Japan's Fugaku supercomputer – now fully deployed – notches another win, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

European Commission Declares €8 Billion Investment in Supercomputing

September 18, 2020

Just under two years ago, the European Commission formalized the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU): a concerted HPC effort (comprising 32 participating states at c Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Texas A&M Announces Flagship ‘Grace’ Supercomputer

November 9, 2020

Texas A&M University has announced its next flagship system: Grace. The new supercomputer, named for legendary programming pioneer Grace Hopper, is replacing the Ada system (itself named for mathematician Ada Lovelace) as the primary workhorse for Texas A&M’s High Performance Research Computing (HPRC). Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

At Oak Ridge, ‘End of Life’ Sometimes Isn’t

October 31, 2020

Sometimes, the old dog actually does go live on a farm. HPC systems are often cursed with short lifespans, as they are continually supplanted by the latest and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia and EuroHPC Team for Four Supercomputers, Including Massive ‘Leonardo’ System

October 15, 2020

The EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU) serves as Europe’s concerted supercomputing play, currently comprising 32 member states and billions of euros in funding. I Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Gordon Bell Special Prize Goes to Massive SARS-CoV-2 Simulations

November 19, 2020

2020 has proven a harrowing year – but it has produced remarkable heroes. To that end, this year, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) introduced the Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia-Arm Deal a Boon for RISC-V?

October 26, 2020

The $40 billion blockbuster acquisition deal that will bring chipmaker Arm into the Nvidia corporate family could provide a boost for the competing RISC-V architecture. As regulators in the U.S., China and the European Union begin scrutinizing the impact of the blockbuster deal on semiconductor industry competition and innovation, the deal has at the very least... Read more…

By George Leopold

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This