Making Power Open to the Enterprising Masses

Since its development in the 1990s, IBM Power Systems served databases. They crunched big data for big business better than anyone else in the industry. But so these systems would support the boom of mobile and cloud computing – not to mention social media and its unstructured data ilk – IBM decided to open Power 8 technology up to the world via the OpenPOWER Foundation.

So, what exactly are founding members such as Google and NVIDIA getting access to?

Fadi Gebara (middle) at IBM IMPACT Conference 2014
“The easy answer is speed. Power 8 is loaded with up to 12 cores running up to 4.15GHz – which required a 4x increase in memory bandwidth over Power 7 to keep all that muscle fed with different things to do,” said Fadi Gebara, senior manager and Master Inventor at IBM Research-Austin.

Power 8 processor utilization is also improved by a lower cache and memory latency (wait time). A processor can’t run 100 percent of the time because it has to “check” its memory for needed data. But 128 MB L4 cache on DRAM and up to 230 GB/s per socket of sustained memory bandwidth (supported by 400 GB/s at the DRAM chips) means no stalling. By comparison, Intel’s XEON processor only manages 37.5 MB of cache and 85 GB/s of memory bandwidth – on 15 cores.

Perhaps Power 8’s greatest advancement is in its Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI) interface. It allows others to build new systems on top of Power 8. For example, CAPI can be made to quickly access and analyze unstructured NoSQL data stored in Flash memory.

All that unstructured social media data stored in the cloud and being transferred across mobile devices? CAPI treats that Flash, NoSQL-stored information like traditional, or “slow,” memory. That translates to Power 8’s 192 threads and 24-to-1 memory density advantage over x86 doing more work, faster and at a lower cost for many cloud-based NoSQLs. But perhaps more importantly than the raw speed at a lower cost, is what can be done with that information. 

“In the past, we’ve rolled out a new Power system every one to three years. Power 8 lets anyone develop a new system, and innovative applications, at their speed. This is the advantage of Power 8 and OpenPOWER,” said Peter Hofstee, Hybrid and Workload-Optimized Systems engineer and Master Inventor at IBM Research-Austin.

Power 8 open to ideas

Founding OpenPower member and search giant Google showed off its Power 8 motherboard at the recent IMPACT Conference. Their Senior Director, and OpenPOWER Foundation Director, Gordon McKean wrote that “we're always looking to deliver the highest quality of service for our users, and so we built this server to port our software stack to Power.” This means future applications we can’t imagine our personal Google machines performing, today.

Google's Power 8 motherboard

Building a server-class processor is prohibitively expensive. OpenPOWER gives more companies and different industries enterprise-level capability that would otherwise cost 100s of millions of dollars to develop. Foundation members NVIDIA is already seeing improvement in their analytics applications; and Mellanox reported a 10x increase in application throughput over their 40GbE adapters and switches. More than 25 other OpenPOWER members are testing their creativity, too.

For its part, IBM’s cloud and Watson solutions run Power 8. And over time, the company hopes that OpenPOWER will create inclusive, creative opportunities for what were previously only high-end options.

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