Posts Tagged ‘OpenCAPI’

IBM’s POWER9 Races to AI

December 7, 2017

IBM is betting the future of its Power Systems on artificial intelligence (AI). The company introduced its newly designed POWER9 processor publicly this past Tuesday. The new machine, according to IBM, is capable of shortening the training of deep learning frameworks by nearly 4x, allowing enterprises to build more accurate AI applications, faster.

IBM engineer tests the POWER9

Designed for the post-CPU era, the core POWER9 building block is the IBM Power Systems AC922. The AC922, notes IBM, is the first to embed PCI-Express 4.0, next-generation NVIDIA NVLink, and OpenCAPI—3 interface accelerators—which together can accelerate data movement 9.5x faster than PCIe 3.0 based x86 systems. The AC922 is designed to drive demonstrable performance improvements across popular AI frameworks such as Chainer, TensorFlow and Caffe, as well as accelerated databases such as Kinetica.

More than a CPU under the AC922 cover

Depending on your sense of market timing, POWER9 may be coming at the best or worst time for IBM.  Notes industry observer Timothy Prickett Morgan, The Next Platform: “The server market is booming as 2017 comes to a close, and IBM is looking to try to catch the tailwind and lift its Power Systems business.”

As Morgan puts it, citing IDC 3Q17 server revenue figures, HPE and Dell are jockeying for the lead in the server space, and for the moment, HPE (including its H3C partnership in China) has the lead with $3.32 billion in revenues, compared to Dell’s $3.07 billion, while Dell was the shipment leader, with 503,000 machines sold in Q3 2017 versus HPE’s 501,400 machines shipped. IBM does not rank in the top five shippers but thanks in part to the Z and big Power8 boxes, IBM still holds the number three server revenue generator spot, with $1.09 billion in sales for the third quarter, according to IDC. The z system accounted for $673 million of that, up 63.8 percent year-on year due mainly to the new Z. If you do the math, Morgan continued, the Power Systems line accounted for $420.7 million in the period, down 7.2 percent from Q3 2016. This is not surprising given that customers held back knowing Power9 systems were coming.

To get Power Systems back to where it used to be, Morgan continued, IBM must increase revenues by a factor of three or so. The good news is that, thanks to the popularity of hybrid CPU-GPU systems, which cost around $65,000 per node from IBM, this isn’t impossible. Therefore, it should take fewer machines to rack up the revenue, even if it comes from a relatively modest number of footprints and not a huge number of Power9 processors. More than 90 percent of the compute in these systems is comprised of GPU accelerators, but due to bookkeeping magic, it all accrues to Power Systems when these machines are sold. Plus IBM reportedly will be installing over 10,000 such nodes for the US Department of Energy’s Summit and Sierra supercomputers in the coming two quarters, which should provide a nice bump. And once IBM gets the commercial Power9 systems into the field, sales should pick up again, Morgan expects.

IBM clearly is hoping POWER9 will cut into Intel x86 sales. But that may not happen as anticipated. Intel is bringing out its own advanced x86 Xeon machine, Skylake, rumored to be quite expensive. Don’t expect POWER9 systems to be cheap either. And the field is getting more crowded. Morgan 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 system. 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 and take nothing for granted.

No doubt POWER9 presents a good case and has a strong backer in Google, but even that might not be enough. Still, POWER9 sits at the heart of what is expected to be the most powerful data-intensive supercomputers in the world, the Summit and Sierra supercomputers, expected to knock off the world’s current fastest supercomputers from China.

Said Bart Sano, VP of Google Platforms: “Google is excited about IBM’s progress in the development of the latest POWER technology;” adding “the POWER9 OpenCAPI bus and large memory capabilities allow further opportunities for innovation in Google data centers.”

This really is about deep learning, one of the latest hot buzzwords today. Deep learning emerged as a fast growing machine learning method that extracts information by crunching through millions of processes and data to detect and rank the most important aspects of the data. IBM designed the POWER9 chip to manage free-flowing data, streaming sensors, and algorithms for data-intensive AI and deep learning workloads on Linux.  Are your people ready to take advantage of POWER9?

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 and here.

OpenCAPI, Gen-Z, CCIX Initiate a New Computing Era

October 20, 2016

The next generation data center will be a more open, cooperative, and faster place judging from the remarkably similar makeup of three open consortia, OpenCAPI , Gen-Z, and CCIX. CCIX allows processors based on different instruction set architectures to extend their cache coherency to accelerators, interconnect, and I/O.

OpenCAPI provides a way to attach accelerators and I/O devices with coherence and virtual addressing to eliminate software inefficiency associated with the traditional I/O subsystem, and to attach advanced memory technologies.  The focus of OpenCAPI is on attached devices primarily within a server. Gen-Z, announced around the same time, is a new data access technology that primarily enables read and write operations among disaggregated memory and storage.


Rethink the Datacenter

It’s quite likely that your next data center will use all three. The OpenCAPI group includes AMD, Dell EMC, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Mellanox Technologies, Micron, NVIDIA and Xilinx. Their new specification promises to enable up to 10X faster server performance with the first products expected in the second half of 2017.

The Gen-Z consortium consists Advanced Micro Devices, Broadcom, Huawei Technologies, Red Hat, Micron, Xilinx, Samsung, IBM, and Cray. Other founding members are Cavium, IDT, Mellanox Technologies, Microsemi, Seagate, SK Hynix, and Western Digital. They plan to develop a scalable computing interconnect and protocol that will enable systems to keep with the rapidly rising tide of data that is being generated and that needs to be analyzed. This will require the rapid movement of high volumes of data between memory and storage.

The CCIX initial members include Amphenol Corp., Arteris Inc., Avery Design Systems, Atos, Cadence Design Systems, Inc., Cavium, Inc., Integrated Device Technology, Inc., Keysight Technologies, Inc., Micron Technology, Inc., NetSpeed Systems, Red Hat Inc., Synopsys, Inc., Teledyne LeCroy, Texas Instruments, and TSMC.

The basic problem all three address revolves around how to make the volume and variety of new hardware forge fast communications and work together. In effect each group, from its own particular perspective, aims to boost the performance and interoperability of data center servers, devices, and components engaged in generating and handling myriad data and tasked with analyzing large amounts of that data. This will only be compounded as IoT, blockchain, and cognitive computing ramp up.

To a large extent, this results from the inability of Moore’s Law to continue to double the number of processors indefinitely. Future advances must rely on different sorts of hardware tweaks and designs to deliver greater price/performance.

Then in Aug. 2016 IBM announced a related chip breakthrough.  It unveiled the industry’s first 7 nm chip that could hold more than 20 billion tiny switches or transistors for improved computing power. The new chips could help meet demands of future cloud computing and Big Data systems, cognitive computing, mobile products and other emerging technologies, according to IBM.

Most chips today in servers and other devices use microprocessors between 14 and 22 nanometers (nm). The 7nm technology represents at least a 50 percent power improvement. IBM intends to apply the new chips to analyze DNA, viruses, and exosomes. IBM expects to test this lab-on-a-chip technology starting with prostate cancer.

The point of this digression into chips and Moore’s Law is to suggest the need for tools and interfaces like Open CAPI, Gen-Z, and CCIX. As the use cases for ultra fast data analytics expands along with the expected proliferation of devices speed becomes critical. How long do you want to wait for an analysis of your prostate or breast cells? If the cells are dear to you, every nanosecond matters.

For instance, OpenCAPI provides an open, high-speed pathway for different types of technology – advanced memory, accelerators, networking and storage – to more tightly integrate their functions within servers. This data-centric approach to server design puts the compute power closer to the data and removes inefficiencies in traditional system architectures to help eliminate system bottlenecks that significantly improve server performance.  In some cases OpenCAPI enables system designers to access memory with sub-500 nanosecond latency.

IBM plans to introduce POWER9-based servers that leverage the OpenCAPI specification in the second half of 2017. Similarly, expect other members of OpenPOWER Foundation to introduce OpenCAPI enabled products in the same time frame. In addition, Google and Rackspace’s new server under development, codenamed Zaius and announced at the OpenPOWER Summit in San Jose, will leverage POWER9 processor technology and plans to provide the OpenCAPI interface in its design. Also, Mellanox plans to enable the new specification capabilities in its future products and Xilinx plans to support OpenCAPI enabled FPGAs

As reported at the Gen-Z announcement, “The formation of these new consortia (CCIX, OpenCAPI, and Gen-Z), backed by more than 30 industry-leading global companies, supports the premise that the datacenter of the future will require open standards. We look forward to collaborating with CCIX and OpenCAPI as this new ecosystem takes shape,” said Kurtis Bowman, Gen-Z Consortium president. Welcome to the 7nm computing era.

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


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