Posts Tagged ‘FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array)’

IBM Jumps into the Next Gen Server Party with POWER9

February 15, 2018

IBM re-introduced its POWER9 lineup of servers  this week starting with 2-socket and 4-socket systems and more variations coming in the months ahead as IBM, along with the rest of the IT vendor community grapples with how to address changing data center needs. The first, the AC922, arrived last fall. DancingDinosaur covered it here. More, the S922/S914/S924 and H922/H924/L922, are promised later this quarter.

The workloads organizations are running these days are changing, often dramatically and quickly. One processor, no matter how capable or flexible or efficient will be unlikely to do the job going forward. It will take an entire family of chips.  That’s as true for Intel and AMR and the other chip players as IBM.

In some ways, IBM’s challenge is even qwerkier. Its chips will not only need to support Linux and Windows, but also IBMi and AIX. IBM simply cannot abandon its IBMi and AIX customer bases. So chips supporting IBMi and AIX are being built into the POWER9 family.

For IBMi the company is promising POWER9 exploitation for:

  • Expanding the secure-ability of IBMi with TLS, secure APIs, and logs for SIEM solutions
  • Expanded Install options with an installation process using USB 3.0 media
  • Encryption and compression for cloud storage
  • Increasing the productivity of developers and administrators

This may sound trivial to those who have focused on the Linux world and work with x86 systems too, but it is not for a company still mired in productive yet aging IBMi systems.

IBM also is promising POWER9 goodies for AIX, its legacy Unix OS, including:

  • AIX Security: PowerSC and PowerSC MFA updates for malware intrusion prevention and strong authentication
  • New workload acceleration with shared memory communications over RDMA (SMC-R)
  • Improved availability: AIX Live Update enhancements; GDR 1.2; PowerHA 7.2
  • Improved Cloud Mgmt: IBM Cloud PowerVC Manager for SDI; Import/Export;
  • AIX 7.2 native support for POWER9 – e.g. enabling NVMe

Again, if you have been running Linux on z or LinuxONE this may sound antiquated, but AIX has not been considered state-of-the-art for years. NVMe alone gives is a big boost.

But despite all the nice things IBM is doing for IBMi and AIX, DancingDinosaur believes the company clearly is betting POWER9 will cut into Intel x86 sales. But that is not a given. Intel is rolling out its own family of advanced x86 Xeon machines under the Skylake code name. Different versions will be packaged and tuned to different workloads. They are rumored, at the fully configured high end, to be quite expensive. Just don’t expect POWER9 systems to be cheap either.

And the chip market is getting more crowded. As Timothy Prickett Morgan, analyst at The Next Platform noted, various ARM chips –especially ThunderX2 from Cavium and Centriq 2400 from Qualcomm –can boost non-X86 numbers and divert sales from IBM’s POWER9 family. Also, AMD’s Epyc X86 processors have a good chance of stealing some market share from Intel’s Skylake. So the POWER9 will have to fight for every sale IBM wants.

Morgan went on: IBM differentiated the hardware and the pricing with its NVLink versions, depending on the workload and the competition, with its most aggressive pricing and a leaner and cheaper microcode and hypervisor stack reserved for the Linux workloads that the company is chasing. IBM very much wants to sell its Power-Linux combo against Intel’s Xeon-Linux and also keep AMD’s Epyc-Linux at bay. Where the Power8 chip had the advantage over the Intel’s Haswell and Broadwell Xeon E5 processors when it came to memory capacity and memory bandwidth per socket, and could meet or beat the Xeons when it came to performance on some workloads that is not yet apparent with the POWER9.

With the POWER9, however, IBM will likely charge a little less for companies buying its Linux-only variants, observes Morgan, effectively enabling IBM to win Linux deals, particularly where data analytics and open source databases drive the customer’s use case. Similarly, some traditional simulation and modeling workloads in the HPC and machine learning areas are ripe for POWER9.

POWER9 is not one chip. Packed into the chip are next-generation NVIDIA NVLink and OpenCAPI to provide significantly faster performance for attached GPUs. The PCI-Express 4.0 interconnect will be twice the speed of PCI-Express 3.0. The open POWER9 architecture also allows companies to mix a wide range of accelerators to meet various needs. Meanwhile, OpenCAPI can unlock coherent FPGAs to support varied accelerated storage, compute, and networking workloads. IBM also is counting on the 300+ members of the OpenPOWER Foundation and OpenCAPI Consortium to launch innovations for POWER9. Much is happening: Stay tuned to DancingDinosaur

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his work at and here.

IBM Aims to Lead Silicon Era and Beyond

October 22, 2014

Despite dumping its money-losing semiconductor business on GLOBALFOUNDRIES this week and a discouraging 3Q14 financial report, IBM appears determined to drive Moore’s Law.  The law, which produced decades of price/performance gains for IT, will continue to achieve gains but it won’t be solely silicon-based.

How badly do we need Moore’s Law to continue? Dr. Bernard Meyerson, IBM Fellow, VP of Innovation, as part of a keynote presentation at Enterprise2014 put it this way: when it comes to data, there are 6-9 orders of magnitude on the horizon. Today’s zEC12 processor, the fastest commercial processor out there, hasn’t a chance of keeping up for long.

Still, Meyerson isn’t writing off silicon: “Silicon transistors will dominate Information Technology for decades to come but contribute little to its progress,” he declared. To augment the shortcomings of silicon, we will have to look to innovation and the resulting integrated solutions made up of specialized hardware, software, systems, architectures, and network functionality to compensate for lost technology benefits.

Ironically, data center managers actually may find themselves worrying about the slowness of the speed of light and the longer data paths that may result. His question to data center managers: Even at 300,000,000 meters/sec, is light fast enough to keep pace with technology? His answer: Not even close.

The answer lies in new innovative integrated solutions that include 3D integration, synaptic architectures, agile computing (autonomic acceleration), cognitive computing, neuromorphic systems and more. In the near term he suggests data centers to look into advances in FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) and GPU acceleration. In the new Power8 systems, FPGAs leverage CAPI to avoid a lot of overhead and delay.

Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM

 IBM researchers explore new semiconductor materials

 The offloading of IBM’s global commercial semiconductor technology business to GLOBALFOUNDRIES, at a cost of $1.5 billion over three years, doesn’t signal an IBM retreat from the semiconductor business. The deal commits GLOBALFOUNDRIES as IBM’s exclusive server processor semiconductor technology provider for 22 nanometer (nm), 14nm, and 10nm semiconductors for the next 10 years. You can bet the upcoming generation of System z will use 22nm chips and 14nm and 10nm chips for subsequent revs of the z, or whatever they are calling it by then.

This is combined with IBM’s previously announced $3 billion investment over five years for semiconductor technology research to lead in the next generation of computing. Between that investment and the offloading of the semiconductor fabrication business this week combined with the research described at Enterprise2014, you can be sure that IBM will stay involved in the CPU business.  But one thing you should realize now, just throwing more silicon CPUs at the performance challenge, as IT has done for decades, will no longer work. Adds Meyerson: Brute force (more of the same) has run its course.

Full disclosure: DancingDinosaur is NOT a financial analyst. Still, the IBM 3Q14 financials released on Monday isn’t going to thrill IBM investors.  Revenues were down across the board. Of most interest to DancingDinosaur were the results of IBM’s hardware group, STG, which dropped.  Specifically, revenues from Power Systems were down 12% compared with the 2013 period.  Revenues from System x were down 10%, but that’s now Lenovo’s worry.  Revenues from System z fell 35% compared with a year ago while revenues from System Storage decreased 6%. The System z is due for a refresh in 2015, which will undoubtedly entail a significant price/performance gain plus whatever other goodies IBM will load on. This usually gives the z a revenue boost. Power just introduced some new POWER8 machines at Enterprise 2014, which should result in revenue increases in upcoming quarters.

Maybe not so coincidentally on the blog itjungle,  a piece titled 2020 Processor Technology Could Unite Power And Mainframe Chips, by Dan Burger throws yet a few more possibilities at the processor question, especially as it pertains to IBM’s enterprise server platforms, Power and System z. Burger apparently was attending the same session as DancingDinosaur when Bernie Meyerson and others brought up the silicon question. He caught up with Ross Mauri, the general manager of System z, grabbing this interesting quote on the subject: “Now there will have to be investment in the next big thing and so it’s interesting to consider whether the Power chip and the mainframe CMOS chip will merge into one chip for both platforms,” adding “I don’t know what is next in that 2020 time frame based on the technologies we are looking at today—anything is possible.” BTW, 2020 is just a bit more than five years away; DancingDinosaur, who has been covering business and technology since 1975, may not even be retired by then.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding. You can follow him on Twitter, @mainframeblog. Or check out more of his technology writing at or here.

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