Brussels / 4 & 5 February 2017


Interview with Georg Greve
Let's talk about hardware: The POWER of open.. How Open POWER is changing the game and why the Free Software Community should care.

Photo of Georg Greve

Georg Greve will give a talk about Let's talk about hardware: The POWER of open.. How Open POWER is changing the game and why the Free Software Community should care. at FOSDEM 2017.

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I’m Georg Greve, born a long time ago on a tiny island far, far away. Became a self-taught software developer in the 1980s, started using GNU/Linux in 1992, joined the GNU Project and became its speaker in 1998. Founded the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) in 2001 along with a group of like-minded free software developers. Represented and promoted the agenda of software freedom at the United Nations, the European Commission and with countries around the world. Deeply involved in the software patent wars, the Microsoft antitrust case, the OOXML/ODF battles. Since 2010 my mission is to restore and protect our collective ability to collaborate in confidence. Collaboration and communication is at the heart of our existence and ability to form societies. That is why I co-founded Kolab Systems AG as a company to provide a general set of technologies based on principles of security, privacy, robustness and decentralisation. Everything about Kolab is free software / open source and we’re working hard to build the fully free collaboration stack of the future.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

I’ll be talking about the subject of OpenPOWER, how it came to be, why it is important and what are the opportunities it offers for our community. This is a topic that I became aware of last year and that has surprised me in a positive way. Hardware is a difficult topic. The amount of investment required to handle hardware at scale has put it off limits for most people.

So as a community, our approach to it has been mostly reactive, sometimes even fatalistic. We know about many of the issues with Intel. Some people are working hard to mitigate these, i.e. by trying to disable the management engine, but it is ultimately a difficult road where open source will remain a second class citizen in the foreseeable future. OpenPOWER has a fundamentally different dynamic, but most people in our community do not even know it exists.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

The goal of the talk is to raise awareness and visibility of what is going on around OpenPOWER, how we found our way into it, what we have discovered as a member of the OpenPOWER Foundation, and what opportunities we see in this ecosystem.

Q: How did you discover OpenPOWER?

We discovered OpenPOWER by chance, I am afraid to admit. IBM contacted us on behalf of a large supermarket chain in a European country that was already running Kolab, but had now decided to switch to OpenPOWER and wanted to know whether they could run Kolab on POWER. So we worked together to certify Kolab for Power8 and in the course of that work got insight into the OpenPOWER ecosystem.

When challenging that ecosystem with some questions, it became apparent there is a major opportunity here for the community that deals in software freedom and questions of security and control. But (almost) no-one knows of it.

Q: Are you using OpenPOWER hardware in your data centre at Kolab Systems?

We only became aware of this last year, and hardware purchasing cycles are generally longer than 6 months. But we’re currently putting together our next round of evolution of our data centre, and expect OpenPOWER to feature centrally in that.

Q: Are there some disadvantages or challenges when migrating to OpenPOWER hardware?

Not really. Power is supported by all the major distributions and handles virtualization exceptionally well, better even than Intel. The only major difference is in Big vs Little Endian architecture. But the coming versions now also allow running Little Endian virtual machines on OpenPOWER, which is Big Endian.

Q: What’s the significance of the POWER8-based Talos Secure Workstation?

It is designed from the ground up to have no black boxes, and with security in mind. So it allows you to have an exceptionally powerful workstation that is more secure than virtually any other hardware platform you could find today.

That workstation carries enough power to simultaneously serve as your server for small and some medium sized companies. So as a hardware platform, it is exceptionally interesting and could be the first step toward also a high performance, high security laptop in the future.

Q: Didn’t the crowdfunding campaign for the Talos Secure Workstation fail?

The crowdfunding campaign has failed, yes. But only for now, I would hope. The idea of the workstation was a little older, and the people who were willing to build it are certainly still around and still have something to say about user controlled computing.

Their statement certainly betrays their disappointment (which I share) and is somewhat centred around negatives and absolutes, but the key points made are valid and the issues are not getting smaller. So there are lessons to be learned here, and I believe as a community we need to pay attention to this if we want to have software freedom not only on pen and paper.

Q: What are your expectations of OpenPOWER hardware in the near future?

Looking at what I saw at the OpenPOWER Summit Europe in Barcelona last year, I am sure we will see some surprising and disruptive innovations coming out of this field. So instead of 10-20% improvements we will see orders of magnitude up to 100x, 200x in certain fields, especially when looking at cloud and analytical fields.

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

You could say that. I’ve been at every single FOSDEM there ever was. Did not miss a single one so far. Not sure whether I am last man standing by now. ;)

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.