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IBM Launches First OpenPower Servers For Hyperscale, Big Data

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

IBM creates mega servers with its Power8 processor, but will other OpenPower partners like Google also pick it up ?

IBM has launched new Power Systems servers, based on its Power chip architecture, which it opened to other manufacturers in a bid to do for servers what ARM has done for mobile devices.

The new IBM servers are based on the Power8 processor, the latest version of the IBM Power RISC (reduced instruction set computing) family. OpenPower consortium member Tyan has also produced a “white label” server product, that can be adopted by others, running software and firmware from IBM, Canonical and Google. Other OpenPower members include Nvidia and Samsung.

Evolving Systems instals Power Systems servers in Minnesota

OpenPower bandagon?

The Power8 chip could be the largest one ever made, with 4 billion transistors packed into less than a square inch using IBM’s 22nm fabrication process. It could go to 250W and 4.5GHz, with a processing power which IBM says will make it perfect for Big Data applications.

IBM’s hope is that by getting more big server makers  to use it, the chip will have a big enough market to take on Intel.

Google’s presence in the OpenPower group has led to suggestions that the search giant may snub Intel servers and use its own Power-based designs for future data centre systems, and other members might have a similar axe to grind against Intel, but any major move is all still speculation and may be a threat as much as reality.

For now, IBM has continued its Power Systems product cycle with the new S class servers based on the Power8 chip. These include Linux specific boxes  tuned for a stack developed with Canonical, as well as more general purpose ones that support Linux, IBM’s own Unix version AIX, and the venerable workhorse system 1 (formerly the AS/400).

The Linux-specific machines re are two running Linux exclusively (the S812L and S822L) which come packaged with Ubuntu, OpenStack, Canonical’s JuJu cloud orchestration and a new version of the KVM virtualisation platform, PiowerKVM. IBM was quick to point out that its partnership with Canonical doesn’t replace its existing relationships with Red Hat and Suse Linux, which continue. 

There are more general purpose versions – the S 813, S822 and S824 – that can run Linux, IBM’s AIX version of Unix, or the IBM system i, (formerly AS/400).

All these servers are more compact, saving energy, cooling and floor space. They are available in 2U and 4U height versions, with one or two sockets, and they will start to become available on June 10, starting at $7973 (£4733).

IBM Power Systems SB24

Big Data demo

This week, OpenPower systems are being shown working on Big Data applications, at the IBM Impact conference in Las Vegas.

The demos include the use of Mellanox’ remote direct memory access (RDMA) exploitation on POWER, which IBM says provides a tenfold improvement in throughput and latenncy, as well as the use of Nvidia’s GPU accelerators.

Nvidia has added support for its CUDA parallel computing architecture systems using Nvidia GPUs and Power CPUs, with an eye to making faster Hadoop analytics and maybe some world-class supercomputers.

Nvidia is also throwing its NVLink high-speed GPU interconnect into the mix, allowing it as a licensed technology to OpenPower Foundation members.

IBM has also described some attached accelerator solutions. One is a memcached Key Value Store showing a 35X power/performance improvement with an order of magnitude latency reduction, and the other is a Monte Carlo financial instruments model with a 200X speedup using Altera FPGAs with a CAPI attach.

Three memory companies – Micron, Samsung Electronics, and SK Hynix – have all promised to support OpenPower with advanced memory and storage components.

IBM Power8 Tom Rosamilia Doug BalogEndorsement from users

Emphasising its  open nature, OpenPower is chaird by Gordon MacKean, who is platforms director at Google. While he didn’t show any specific Google commitment, he applauded the work so far: “We are very pleased with the growth of the OpenPower community and the progress made by the Working Group members even at this early stage. The projects feeding the innovation pipeline to date will greatly enhance the performance of the next generation of servers by eliminating system-level bottlenecks.”

At this stage, you wouldn’t expect comments from end users, but banking tech company FIS has weighed in: “FIS is excited about the anticipated capabilities and performance of the combination of IBM P0wer8 and IBM FlashSystem storage arrays,” said MaryEllen Adam, FIS’ senior vice president of large financial institutions product management. “We expect higher utilisation and performance capabilities along with the flexible computing resources needed to meet our client’s application processing and business delivery requirements.”

It’s been picked up by resellers too – the picture above shows Power System S servers being installed by Evolving Systems in Minnesota.

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IBM OpenPower Servers April 2014

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IBM Power Series components
The S Series Power servers are modular