Friday, April 19, 2013

IBM's getting out of the x86 server business

The Wall Street Journal reports today that IBM is exiting the x86 server business, citing poor margins, and selling it off to Lenovo who previously bought their ThinkPad line when IBM got out of the consumer market.

IBM, like Apple, has never done well in low-margin markets. While they were just as enthusiastic about consumer PC sales during the 1980s and early 1990s, and their ThinkPads were some of the best laptops ever made (even if they did have x86 chips in them), when personal computers became a commodity IBM saw the writing on the wall and got out. Now the same thing is happening with servers: relatively cheap Intel and AMD CPUs running Linux are easy to deploy and easy to purchase, and it's not worth the R&D and deployment costs for the shrinking margins they bring in to keep them in the product mix.

What does this mean for PowerPC? Well, it means IBM will continue to develop and improve the server-grade POWER architecture since it'll be shortly the only architecture (save z/Architecture, though the modern versions of those chips have many underlying similarities to POWER) that they sell. Whether this trickles down to the embedded and game markets is another story; PS4 will be AMD-based and the Xbox 720's Durango CPU will also be x86 and appears to be another AMD design also, leaving the Nintendo Wii U and its Espresso CPU (developed by IBM) as the only PowerPC-based console. It's not at all clear whether IBM's going to do any more development in the gaming space, but Freescale is still chugging out embedded PowerPC CPUs and recently introduced the QorIQ AMP 64-bit e6500 series with clock speeds through 2.5GHz and as many as 12 cores on a 28nm process, the linchpin of Freescale's new base-station-on-a-chip line for mobile broadband.

So I think it's good news for the architecture and brightens the future for POWER because it allows IBM to focus more on the major architecture that has consistently made them money. Confidently look for more PowerPC chips sneaking into more pieces of your daily life, including uppsala, the big POWER6 in my server room that serves you Say hi!


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