Posts Tagged ‘CPU’

Meltdown and Spectre Attacks Require IBM Mitigation

January 12, 2018

The chip security threats dubbed Meltdown and Spectre revealed last month apparently will require IBM threat mitigation in the form of code and patching. IBM has been reticent to make a major public announcement, but word finally is starting to percolate publicly.

Courtesy: Preparis Inc.

On January 4, one day after researchers disclosed the Meltdown and Spectre attack methods against Intel, AMD and ARM processors the Internet has been buzzing.  Wrote Eduard Kovacs on Wed.; Jan. 10, IBM informed customers that it had started analyzing impact on its own products. The day before IBM revealed its POWER processors are affected.

A published report from Virendra Soni, January 11, on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 in Las Vegas where Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang revealed how the technology leaders are scrambling to find patches to the Spectre and Meltdown attacks. These attacks enable hackers to steal private information off users’ CPUs running processors from Intel, AMD, and ARM.

For DancingDinosaur readers, that puts the latest POWER chips and systems at risk. At this point, it is not clear how far beyond POWER systems the problem reaches. “We believe our GPU hardware is immune. As for our driver software, we are providing updates to help mitigate the CPU security issue,” Nvidia wrote in their security bulletin.

Nvidia also reports releasing updates for its software drivers that interact with vulnerable CPUs and operating systems. The vulnerabilities take place in three variants: Variant 1, Variant 2, and Variant 3. Nvidia has released driver updates for Variant 1 and 2. The company notes none of its software is vulnerable to Variant 3. Nvidia reported providing security updates for these products: GeForce, Quadro, NVS Driver Software, Tesla Driver Software, and GRID Driver Software.

IBM has made no public comments on which of their systems are affected. But Red Hat last week reported IBM’s System Z, and POWER platforms are impacted by Spectre and Meltdown. IBM may not be saying much but Red Hat is, according to Soni: “Red Hat last week reported that IBM’s System Z, and POWER platforms are exploited by Spectre and Meltdown.”

So what is a data center manager with a major investment in these systems to do?  Meltdown and Spectre “obviously are a very big problem, “ reports Timothy Prickett Morgan, a leading analyst at The Last Platform, an authoritative website following the server industry. “Chip suppliers and operating systems and hypervisor makers have known about these exploits since last June, and have been working behind the scenes to provide corrective countermeasures to block them… but rumors about the speculative execution threats forced the hands of the industry, and last week Google put out a notice about the bugs and then followed up with details about how it has fixed them in its own code. Read it here.

Chipmakers AMD and AMR put out a statement saying only Variant 1 of the speculative execution exploits (one of the Spectre variety known as bounds check bypass), and by Variant 2 (also a Spectre exploit known as branch target injection) affected them. AMD, reports Morgan, also emphasized that it has absolutely no vulnerability to Variant 3, a speculative execution exploit called rogue data cache load and known colloquially as Meltdown.  This is due, he noted, to architectural differences between Intel’s X86 processors and AMD’s clones.

As for IBM, Morgan noted: its Power chips are affected, at least back to the Power7 from 2010 and continuing forward to the brand new Power9. In its statement, IBM said that it would have patches out for firmware on Power machines using Power7+, Power8, Power8+, and Power9 chips on January 9, which passed, along with Linux patches for those machines; patches for the company’s own AIX Unix and proprietary IBM i operating systems will not be available until February 12. The System z mainframe processors also have speculative execution, so they should, in theory, be susceptible to Spectre but maybe not Meltdown.

That still leaves a question about the vulnerability of the IBM LinuxONE and the processors spread throughout the z systems. Ask your IBM rep when you can expect mitigation for those too.

Just patching these costly systems should not be sufficiently satisfying. There is a performance price that data centers will pay. Google noted a negligible impact on performance after it deployed one fix on Google’s millions of Linux systems, said Morgan. There has been speculation, Googled continued, that the deployment of KPTI (a mitigation fix) causes significant performance slowdowns. As far as is known, there is no fix for Spectre Variant 1 attacks, which have to be fixed on a binary-by-binary basis, according to Google.

Red Hat went further and actually ran benchmarks. The company tested its Enterprise Linux 7 release on servers using Intel’s “Haswell” Xeon E5 v3, “Broadwell” Xeon E5 v4, and “Skylake,” the upcoming Xeon SP processors, and showed impacts that ranged from 1-19 percent. You can demand these impacts be reflected in reduced system prices.

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

 

IBM Extends Moore’s Law with First 7nm Test Chip

July 17, 2015

In an announcement last week, IBM effectively extended Moore’s Law for at least another generation of chips, maybe two.  This contradicts what leading vendors, including IBM, have been saying for years about the imminent diminishing returns of Moore’s Law, which postulated that chips would double in capacity every 18-24 months. Moore’s Law drove the price/performance curve the industry has been experiencing for the past several decades.

Post-Silicon-R&D_Infographic_070715_Final

Click to enlarge, courtesy of IBM

The announcement, ironically, coincides with IBM’s completion of the sale of its semi-conductor fabrication business to GLOBALFOUNDRIES, which IBM paid to take the costly facilities off its hands. To pull off the 7nm achievement IBM ended up partnering with a handful of players including public-private partnership with New York State and joint development alliance with GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Samsung, and equipment suppliers. The team is based at SUNY Poly’s NanoTech Complex in Albany.

To achieve the higher performance, lower power, and scaling benefits promised by 7nm technology, the IBM researchers turned to two main innovations, the use Silicon Germanium (SiGe) channel transistors and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography integration at multiple levels, in effect bypassing conventional semiconductor manufacturing approaches.

Don’t expect to see new systems featuring these 7nm chips very soon. The announcement made no mention of any timetable for producing commercial products based on this technology. As Timothy Prickett Morgan, who writes extensively on IBM POWER Systems technology observed: the use of silicon germanium for portions of the transistors cuts back on power consumption for the very fast switching necessary for improving circuit performance, and the circuits are etched using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. These technologies may be difficult and expensive to put into production.

In the meantime, IBM notes that microprocessors utilizing 22nm and 14nm technology run today’s servers, cloud data centers, and mobile devices; and already 10nm technology is well on the way to becoming a mature technology. The 7nm chips promise even more: at least a 50% power/performance improvement for next mainframe and POWER systems that will fuel the Big Data, cloud and mobile era, and soon you can add the Internet of Things too.

The z13 delivers unbeatable performance today. With the zEC12 IBM boasted of the fastest commercial chip in the industry, 5.5 GHz on a 32 nm wafer. It did not make that boast with the z13. Instead the z13 runs on a 22 nm core at 5 GHz but still delivers a 40% total capacity improvement over the zEC12.

It does this by optimizing the stack top to bottom with 600 processors and 320 separate channels dedicated just to drive I/O throughput. The reason for not cranking up the clock speed on the z13, according to IBM, was the plateauing of Moore’s Law. The company couldn’t get enough boost for the tradeoffs it would have had to make. Nobody seems to be complaining about giving up that one-half GHz. Today the machine can process 2.5 billion transactions a day.

The ride up the Moore’s Law curve has been very enjoyable for all. Companies took the additional processing power to build onto the chip more capabilities that otherwise would have required additional processors.  The result: more performance and more capabilities at lower cost. But all good things come to an end.

This 7nm  breakthrough doesn’t necessarily restore Moore’s Law. At this point, the best we can guess is that it temporarily moves the price/performance curve to a new plane. Until we know the economics of mass fabrication in the 7nm silicon germanium world we can’t tell whether we’ll see a doubling as before or maybe just a half or quarter or maybe it could triple. We just don’t now.

For the past decade, Morgan reports, depending on the architecture, the thermal limits of systems imposed a clock speed limit on processors, and aside from some nominal instruction per clock (IPC) improvements with each  recent microarchitecture change, clock speeds and performance for a processor stayed more or less flat. This is why vendors went parallel with their CPU architectures, in effect adding cores to expand throughput rather than increasing clock speed to boost performance on a lower number of cores. Some, like IBM, also learned to optimize at every level of the stack. As the z13 demonstrates, lots of little improvements do add up.

Things won’t stop here. As Morgan observes, IBM Research and the Microelectronics Division were working with GLOBALFOUNDRIES and Samsung and chip-making equipment suppliers who collaborate through the SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in nearby Albany to get a path to 10 nm and then 7 nm processes even as the sale of GLOBALFOUNDRIES was being finalized.

The next step, he suggests, could possibly be at 4 nm but no one is sure if this can be done in a way that is economically feasible. If it can’t, IBM already has previewed the possibility of other materials that show promise.

Moore’s Law has been a wonderful ride for the entire industry. Let’s wish them the best as they aim for ever more powerful processors.

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


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