Latest IBM Initiatives Drive Power Advantages over x86

This past week IBM announced a multi-year strategic collaboration between it and Xilinx that aims to enable higher performance and energy-efficient data center applications through Xilinx FPGA-enabled workload acceleration on IBM POWER-based systems. The goal is to deliver open acceleration infrastructures, software, and middleware to address applications like machine learning, network functions virtualization (NFV), genomics, high performance computing (HPC), and big data analytics. In the process, IBM hopes to put x86 systems at an even greater price/performance disadvantage.

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Courtesy of IBM

At the same time IBM and several fellow OpenPOWER Foundation members revealed new technologies, collaborations and developer resources to enable clients to analyze data more deeply and at high speed. The new offerings center on the tight integration of IBM’s open and licensable POWER processors with accelerators and dedicated high performance x86e processors optimized for computationally intensive software code. The accelerated POWER-based offerings come at a time when many companies are seeking the best platform for Internet of Things, machine learning, and other performance hungry applications.

The combination of collaborations and alliances are clearly aimed at establishing Power as the high performance leader for the new generation of workloads. Noted IBM, independent software vendors already are leveraging IBM Flash Storage attached to CAPI to create very large memory spaces for in-memory processing of analytics, enabling the same query workloads to run with a fraction of the number of servers compared to commodity x86 solutions.  These breakthroughs enable POWER8-based systems to continue where the promise of Moore’s Law falls short, by delivering performance gains through OpenPOWER ecosystem-driven, full stack innovation. DancingDinosaur covered efforts to expand Moore’s Law on the z a few weeks back here.

The new workloads present different performance challenges. To begin, we’re talking about heterogeneous workloads that are becoming increasingly prevalent, forcing data centers to turn to application accelerators just to keep up with the demands for throughput and latency at low power. The Xilinx All Programmable FPGAs promise to deliver the power efficiency that makes accelerators practical to deploy throughout the data center. Just combine IBM’s open and licensable POWER architecture with Xilinx FPGAs to deliver compelling performance, performance/watt, and lower total cost of ownership for this new generation of data centers workloads.

As part of the IBM and Xilinx strategic collaboration, IBM Systems Group developers will create solution stacks for POWER-based servers, storage, and middleware systems with Xilinx FPGA accelerators for data center architectures such as OpenStack, Docker, and Spark. IBM will also develop and qualify Xilinx accelerator boards for IBM Power Systems servers. Xilinx is developing and will release POWER-based versions of its leading software defined SDAccel™ Development Environment and libraries for the OpenPOWER developer community.

But there is more than this one deal. IBM is promising new products, collaborations and further investments in accelerator-based solutions on top of the POWER processor architecture.  Most recently announced were:

The coupling of NVIDIA® Tesla® K80 GPUs, the flagship offering of the NVIDIA Tesla Accelerated Computing Platform, with Watson’s POWER-based architecture to accelerate Watson’s Retrieve and Rank API capabilities to 1.7x of its normal speed. This speed-up can further improve the cost-performance of Watson’s cloud-based services.

On the networking front Mellanox announced the world’s first smart network switch, the Switch-IB 2, capable of delivering an estimated 10x system performance improvement. NEC also announced availability of its ExpEther Technology suited for POWER architecture-based systems, along with plans to leverage IBM’s CAPI technology to deliver additional accelerated computing value in 2016.

Finally, two OpenPOWER members, E4 Computer Engineering and Penguin Computing, revealed new systems based on the OpenPOWER design concept and incorporating IBM POWER8 and NVIDIA Tesla GPU accelerators. IBM also reported having ported a series of key IBM Internet of Things, Spark, Big Data, and Cognitive applications to take advantage of the POWER architecture with accelerators.

The announcements include the names of partners and products but product details were in short supply as were cost and specific performance details. DancingDinosaur will continue to chase those down.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst and writer. Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing at technologywriter.com and here.

DancingDinosaur will not post the week of Thanksgiving. Have a delicious holiday.

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