IBM Fires a Shot at Intel with its Latest POWER Roadmap

In case you worry that IBM will abandon hardware in the pursuit of its strategic initiatives focusing on cloud, mobile, analytics and more; well, stop worrying. With the announcement of its POWER Roadmap at the OpenPOWER Summit earlier this spring, it appears POWER will be around for years to come. But IBM is not abandoning the strategic initiatives either; the new Roadmap promises to support new types of workloads, such as real time analytics, Linux, hyperscale data centers, and more along with support for the current POWER workloads.

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Pictured above: POWER9 Architecture, courtesy of IBM

Specifically, IBM is offering a denser roadmap, not tied to technology and not even tied solely to IBM. It draws on innovations from a handful of the members of the Open POWER Foundation as well as support from Google. The new roadmap also signals IBM’s intention to make a serious run at Intel’s near monopoly on enterprise server processors by offering comparable or better price, performance, and features.

Google, for example, reports porting many of its popular web services to run on Power systems; its toolchain has been updated to output code for x86, ARM, or Power architectures with the flip of a configuration flag. Google, which strives to be everything to everybody, now has a highly viable alternative to Intel in terms of performance and price with POWER. At the OpenPOWER Summit early in the spring, Google made it clear it plans to build scale-out server solutions based on OpenPower.

Don’t even think, however, that Google is abandoning Intel. The majority of its systems are Intel-oriented. Still, POWER and the OpenPOWER community will provide a directly competitive processing alternative.  To underscore the situation Google and Rackspace announced they were working together on Power9 server blueprints for the Open Compute Project, designs that reportedly are compatible with the 48V Open Compute racks Google and Facebook, another hyperscale data center, already are working on.

Google represents another proof point that OpenPOWER is ready for hyperscale data centers. DancingDinosaur, however, really is interested most in what is coming from OpenPOWER that is new and sexy for enterprise data centers, since most DancingDinosaur readers are focused on the enterprise data center. Of course, they still need ever better performance and scalability too. In that regard OpenPOWER has much for them in the works.

For starters, POWER8 is currently delivered as a 12-core, 22nm processor. POWER9, expected in 2017, will be delivered as 14nm processor with 24 cores and CAPI and NVlink accelerators. That is sure to deliver more performance with greater energy efficiency.  By 2018, the IBM roadmap shows POWER8/9 as a 10nm, maybe even 7nm, processor, based on the existing micro-architecture.

The real POWER future, arriving around 2020, will feature a new micro-architecture, sport new features and functions, and bring new technology. Expect much, if not almost all, of the new functions to come from various OpenPOWER Foundation partners,

POWER9, only a year or so out, promises a wealth of improvements in speeds and feeds. Although intended to serve the traditional Power Server market, it also is expanding its analytics capabilities and bringing new deployment models for hyperscale, cloud, and technical computing through scale out deployment. This will include deployment in both clustered or multiple formats. It will feature a shorter pipeline, improved branch execution, and low latency on the die cache as well as PCI gen 4.

Expect a 3x bandwidth improvement with POWER9 over POWER8 and a 33% speed increase. POWER9 also will continue to speed hardware acceleration and support next gen NVlink, improved coherency, enhance CAPI, and introduce a 25 GPS high speed link. Although the 2-socket chip will remain, IBM suggests larger socket counts are coming. It will need that to compete with Intel.

As a data center manager, will a POWER9 machine change your data center dynamics?  Maybe, you decide: a dual-socket Power9 server with 32 DDR4 memory slots, two NVlink slots, three PCIe gen-4 x16 slots, and a total 44 core count. That’s a lot of computing power in one rack.

Now IBM just has to crank out similar advances for the next z System (a z14 maybe?) through the Open Mainframe Project.

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.

 

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