Posts Tagged ‘PCI-Express 4.0’

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’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.

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