Ling Shao, Associate Director, Distinguished Engineer at IBM Research
Ling Shao, Associate Director, Distinguished Engineer at IBM Research

IBM has announced the availability of SuperVessel cloud, a development and learning environment for the OpenPOWER Foundation.

SuperVessel has been developed by IBM Systems Labs and IBM Research based in Beijing. It is described by IBM as an open access cloud service for developers who want to participate in the OpenPOWER ecosystem. The goal of the SuperVessel cloud is to deliver a virtual R&D environment for the development, testing and piloting of applications.

IBM has told delegates at the OpenPOWER Foundation Summit in Beijing “SuperVessel has attracted thousands of users in the past six months, including developers from the open source community and students from more than 30 universities in China and around the world.”

Utilising virtual labs and POWER technologies to accelerate OpenPOWER application development

The SuperVessel cloud takes advantage of IBM POWER processors and hardware from IBM OpenPOWER partners. Developers have access to Xilinx FPGA accelerators which use IBM’s Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI). Using CAPI an FPGA is able to appear to the POWER 8 processor as if it were part of the processor. For developers building big data systems or where data needs to be moved to memory quickly this is a significant bonus.

By delivering this as part of a virtual lab environment, IBM is providing developers with access to technology that many would not be able to afford. It also provides an opportunity for developers to create applications for the POWER platform that would otherwise not have been possible.

The first fruits of IBM’s investment are already beginning to be delivered. ProteinGoggle project, which aims at examining protein sequences to better understand human health has been developed at Tongji University. At the same time Chongqing University has been doing analysis and optimization of the Chongqing subway system.

Easy access via the web or a private SuperVessel cloud

One way to access SuperVessel is to sign up via the PTOPENLAB website. However IBM is keen to not limit this to a single cloud but potentially kick off lots of labs in universities and other places. Ling Shao, Associate Director, Distinguished Engineer at IBM Research told us:

“Here, the “sign up” means the universities or OpenPOWER partners are willing to invest to build a new site for the SuperVessel cloud. For example, we will discuss with the university or partner and understand their potential investment plans. Then we will help them to do the sizing and project planning.”

This is good news and it opens up the possibility of IBM rolling this out inside all of its SoftLayer cloud datacentres as part of their adoption of OpenPOWER hardware.

Access to resources is through virtual points. When users sign up via the web they are allocated 500 points. According to Shao: “We set the default quota for each user. For those users requiring a special level of resources, we will judge if our environment can afford it or not. In current stages, we haven’t planned any charges.”

An OpenPOWER App Store on the horizon?

If IBM is going after developers to accelerate applications for POWER, it would make sense to build an App Store for POWER and SuperVessel. Shao says: “..right now, we have an “image store” and “accelerator library store,” which allow users to very quickly locate pre-packaged images for different development environments (e.g. Python, Java, SPARK).

“Once the users make their pre-packaged images or accelerator libraries public, they could win a ‘virtual point’ if other users apply. The virtual point is used as the ‘virtual money’ to pay for SuperVessel resources. We may consider an app store on SuperVessel in the future.”

A smart move by IBM and in line with other IBM developer programmes

According to Clive Howard, Principal Practitioner Analyst, Creative Intellect Consulting Limited this is an exciting move by IBM. “The core aspect of this announcement regarding the opening up of POWER to a wider community of developers is clearly a good thing for POWER. It will ideally attract more developers to the platform increasing the number of applications and the availability of skills.

“However, the wider story here is that IBM are broadening its reach to developers more generally. IBM has a tradition of being an enterprise company and so not on the radar of the overwhelming majority of developers. The company aimed to change this with the release of the Bluemix Platform as a Service offering based on the popular open source Cloud Foundry.

“This has been combined with a number of activities including meet-ups, hackathons,  Garages and others aimed at the developer. Specifically the new generation of developer often found in the start-up community which is also a target of IBM through initiatives like the Entrepreneur Global Program, Digital.NYC and TechBerlin. All of this is underpinned by Bluemix.”

According to Shao: “SuperVessel could open the POWER-based services to IBM Bluemix. Here, the POWER-based services mean the services that are running on POWER. SuperVessel could help Bluemix to manage the resources for POWER-based services.”

Howard concludes: “SuperVessel extends this opening up of IBM to one of its most traditional technologies that is synonymous with its enterprise-only image. In itself it is perhaps not that significant and one will have to wait and see how popular POWER proves. But in terms of coming out of the enterprise and towards a far wider relevance within the developer ecosystem it is a good step.”


One of the noticeable things about OpenPOWER is the number of Chinese companies that have signed up for it. It should come as no surprise therefore that SuperVessel started out as a development from Beijing.

While other vendors are struggling to establish themselves in China, IBM seems to have found the secret with OpenPOWER. Not only does this seem to be cementing IBM inside the tough Chinese technology market but the benefits, such as SuperVessel, are now starting to be felt across the whole of IBM.


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