Posts Tagged ‘Open POWER Consortium’

IBM Shouldn’t Forget Its Server Platforms

April 5, 2018

The word coming out of IBM brings a steady patter about cognitive, Watson, and quantum computing, for which IBM predicted quantum would be going mainstream within five years. Most DancingDinosaur readers aren’t worrying about what’s coming in 2023 although maybe they should. They have data centers to run now and are wondering where they are going to get the system horsepower they will need to deliver IoT or Blockchain or any number of business initiatives clamoring for system resources today or tomorrow and all they’ve got are the z14 and the latest LinuxONE. As powerful as they were when first announced, do you think that will be enough tomorrow?

IBM’s latest server, the Z

Timothy Prickett Morgan, analyst at The Next Platform, apparently isn’t so sure. He writes in a recent piece how Google and the other hyperscalers need to add serious power to today’s server options. The solution involves “putting systems based on IBM’s Power9 processor into production.” This shouldn’t take anybody by surprise; almost as soon as IBM set up the Open Power consortium Rackspace, Google, and a handful of others started making noises about using Open POWER for a new type of data center server. The most recent announcements around Power9, covered here back in Feb., promise some new options with even more coming.

Writes Morgan: “Google now has seven applications that have more than 1 billion users – adding Android, Maps, Chrome, and Play to the mix – and as the company told us years ago, it is looking for any compute, storage, and networking edge that will allow it to beat Moore’s Law.” Notice that this isn’t about using POWER9 to drive down Intel’s server prices; Google faces a more important nemesis, the constraints of Moore’s Law.

Google has not been secretive about this, at least not recently. To its credit Google is making its frustrations known at appropriate industry events:  “With a technology trend slowdown and growing demand and changing demand, we have a pretty challenging situation, what we call a supply-demand gap, which means the supply on the technology side is not keeping up with this phenomenal demand growth,” explained Maire Mahony, systems hardware engineer at Google and its key representative at the OpenPower Foundation that is steering the Power ecosystem. “That makes it hard to for us to balance that curve we call performance per TCO dollar. This problem is not unique to Google. This is an industry-wide problem.” True, but the majority of data centers, even the biggest ones, don’t face looming multi-billion user performance and scalability demands.

Morgan continued: “Google has absolutely no choice but to look for every edge. The benefits of homogeneity, which have been paramount for the first decade of hyperscaling, no longer outweigh the need to have hardware that better supports the software companies like Google use in production.”

This isn’t Intel’s problem alone although it introduced a new generation of systems, dubbed Skylake, to address some of these concerns. As Morgan noted recently, “various ARM chips –especially ThunderX2 from Cavium and Centriq 2400 from Qualcomm –can boost non-X86 numbers.” So can AMD’s Epyc X86 processors. Similarly, the Open Power consortium offers an alternative in POWER9.

Morgan went on: IBM differentiated the hardware with its NVLink versions and, 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. Still, it is not apparent to Morgan how POWER9 will compete.

Success may come down to a battle of vendor ecosystems. As Morgan points out: aside from the POWER9 system that Google co-engineered with Rackspace Hosting, the most important contributions that Google has made to the OpenPower effort is to work with IBM to create the OPAL firmware, the OpenKVM hypervisor, and the OpenBMC baseboard management controller, which are all crafted to support little endian Linux, as is common on x86.

Guess this is the time wade into the endian morass. Endian refers to the byte ordering that is used, and IBM chips and a few others do them in reverse of the x86 and Arm architectures. The Power8 chip and its POWER9 follow-on support either mode, big or little endian. By making all of these changes, IBM has made the Power platform more palatable to the hyperscalers, which is why Google, Tencent, Alibaba, Uber, and PayPal all talk about how they make use of Power machinery, particularly to accelerate machine learning and generic back-end workloads. But as quickly as IBM jumped on the problem recently after letting it linger for years, it remains one more complication that must be considered. Keep that in mind when a hyperscaler like Google talks about performance per TCO dollar.

Where is all this going? Your guess is as good as any. The hyperscalers and the consortia eventually should resolve this and DancingDinosaur will keep watching. Stay tuned.

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

IBM z System Shines in 3Q15 Quarterly Report

October 23, 2015

IBM posted another down quarter this past Monday, maybe the thirteenth in a row; it’s easy to lose track. But yet again, the IBM z System provided a bright spot, a 15 percent increase compared with the year-ago period. Last quarter the z also came up a winner. Still the investment analysts went crazy, the stock tumbled, and wild scenarios, inspired by Dell’s acquisition of EMC no doubt, began circulating.

ibm-z13

IBM z13

However, don’t expect IBM to be going away anytime soon. DancingDinosaur is a technology analyst and writer, absolutely not a financial analyst (his wife handles the checkbook).  If you look at what has been going on in the past two years with z System and POWER from a technology standpoint these platforms are here for the long haul.  Most of the top 100 companies rely on a mainframe.  Linux on z has become a factor in roughly 70 percent of the leading shops. When DancingDinosaur last ran the numbers there still are about 5000-6000 active mainframe shops and the numbers aren’t dropping nearly as fast as some pundits would have you believe.

primary-linuxone-emperor

IBM LinuxONE

The z13 and LinuxONE are very powerful mainframes, the most powerful by any number of measures in the industry.  And they are a dramatically different breed of enterprise platform, capable of concurrently running mixed workloads—OLTP, mobile, cloud, analytics—with top performance, scalability, and rock solid security. The Open Mainframe Project in conjunction with the Linux Foundation means that IBM no longer is going it alone with the mainframe. A similar joint effort with the Open POWER Consortium began delivering results within a year.

The Dell-EMC comparison is not a valid one. EMC’s primary business was storage and the business at the enterprise level has changed dramatically. It has changed for IBM too; the company’s revenues from System Storage decreased 19 percent. But storage was never as important to the company as the z, which had long been its cash cow, now diminished for sure but still worth the investment. The dozens and dozens of acquisitions EMC made never brought it much in terms of synergy. IBM, at least, has its strategic imperatives plan that is making measurable progress.

IBM’s strategic imperatives, in fact, were the only business that was doing as well as the z. Strategic imperatives revenue: up 27 percent year-to-year; Cloud revenue up more than 65 percent year-to-date.  Total cloud revenue hit $9.4 billion over the trailing 12 months. Cloud delivered as a service had an annual run rate of $4.5 billion vs. $3.1 billion in third-quarter 2014.  Business analytics revenue was up 19 percent year-to-date. Be interesting to see what cognitive computing and Watson can produce.

Besides storage, the other dim spot in the IBM platform story is Power Systems.  Revenues from Power Systems were down 3 percent compared with the 2014 period. DancingDinosaur, long a fan of Power Systems, anticipates the platform will turn positive next quarter or the first quarter of 2016 as some of the new technology and products coming, in part, from the Open POWER Consortium begin to attract new customers and ring up sales. The new Power Systems LC Server family should attract interest for hybrid Cloud, Hyperscale Data Centers, and Open Solutions, hopefully bringing new customers. With online pricing starting around $6600 the LC machines should be quite competitive against x86 boxes of comparable capabilities.

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.

 

Open POWER Consortium Aims to Expand the POWER Ecosystem beyond IBM

August 7, 2013

With IBM’s August 6 announcement of new POWER partners, including Google, not only is IBM aiming to expand the variety of POWER workloads but establish an alternative ecosystem to Intel/ x86 that continues to dominate general corporate computing.  Through the new Open POWER Consortium, IBM will make  POWER hardware and software available for open development for the first time as well as offer open-source POWER firmware, the software that controls basic chip functions. By doing this, IBM and the consortium can enable innovative customization in creating new styles of server hardware for a variety of computing workloads.

IBM has a long history of using open consortiums to grab a foothold in different markets;  as it did with Eclipse (open software development tools), Linux (open portable operating system), KVM (open hypervisor and virtualization), and OpenStack (open cloud interoperability). In each case, IBM had proprietary technologies but could use the open source consortium strategy to expand market opportunities at the expense of entrenched proprietary competitors like Microsoft or VMware.  The Open POWER Consortium opens a new front against Intel, which already is scrambling to fend off ARM-based systems and other lightweight processors.

The establishment of the Open POWER Consortium also reinforces IBM’s commitment to the POWER platform in the face of several poor quarters. The commitment to POWER has never really wavered, insists an IBM manager, despite what financial analysts might hint at. Even stronger evidence of that commitment to POWER is POWER8, which is on track for 2014 if not sooner, and POWER9, which is currently in development, he confirmed.

As part of its initial collaboration within the consortium, IBM reported it and NVIDIA will integrate NVIDIA’s CUDA GPU and POWER.  CUDA is a parallel computing platform and programming model that enables dramatic increases in computing performance by harnessing the power of the graphics processing unit (GPU).  GPUs increasingly are being used to boost overall system performance, not just graphics performance. The two companies envision powerful computing systems based on NVIDIA GPUs and IBM’s POWER CPUs  and represent an example of the new kind of systems the open consortium can produce.

However, don’t expect immediate results.  The IBM manager told DancingDinosaur that the fruits of any collaboration won’t start showing up until sometime next year. Even the Open POWER Collaboration website has yet to post anything. The consortium is just forming up; IBM expects the public commitment of Google to attract other players, which IBM describes as the next generation of data-center innovators.

As for POWER users, this can only be a good thing. IBM is not reducing its commitment to the POWER roadmap, plus users will be able to enjoy whatever the new players bring to the POWER party, which could be considerable. In the meantime, the Open POWER Consortium welcomes any firm that wants to innovate on the POWER platform and participate in an open, collaborative effort.

An even more interesting question may be where else will IBM’s interest in open systems and open consortiums take it. IBM remains “very focused on open and it’s a safe bet that IBM will continue to support open technologies and groups that support that,” the IBM manager told DancingDinosaur.  IBM, however, has nothing to announce after the Open POWER Consortium. Hmm, might a z/OS open collaborative consortium someday be in the works?

SHARE will be in Boston next week. DancingDinosaur expects to be there and will report on the goings-on. Hope to see some of you there.  There also are plans for a big IBM System z/Power conference, Enterprise Systems 2013, toward to end of October in Florida.  Haven’t seen many details yet, but will keep you posted as they come in.


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