What’s Next for IBM Power Systems?

3 Ways POWER9 Microprocessors Will Revolutionize IBM Power Systems
In the world of data centers, Intel has had a virtual monopoly on data processing with their microprocessors. According to some estimates, Intel owns over 90% of market shares in data centers. However, with the upcoming release of its POWER9 chip, IBM is ready to challenge the dominance of Intel’s x86 chips. 

Building upon the gains of POWER8 in mainframes and high-end servers, POWER9 is already showing some significant wins. Here are 3 of the ways POWER9 microprocessors are revolutionizing IBM Power Systems and their micro-processing capabilities.

The OpenPOWER Foundation: Fueled for POWER9

Founded in 2013, the OpenPOWER Foundation is an open technical membership organization dedicated to rethinking how to approach technology. As its name suggests, the foundation’s goal is to build an ecosystem around IBM POWER architecture that integrates openly shared technology from the foundation’s members.

IBM started the foundation in partnership with heavy hitters such as Google, Samsung, Mellanox, NVIDIA, and Micron. Foundation membership has since surged to over 200 members. With the processing power of POWER9 chips, IBM is ready to provide a viable alternative to Intel-based solutions for analytics and big data applications—and the wins have already started coming in.

As far back as 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy had chosen IBM POWER processors to power two of its upcoming supercomputers. One of the supercomputers is thought to be the fastest supercomputer in the world, capable of 200 petaflops of peak processing power.

In addition, this year, Google and Rackspace announced they were developing a server architecture based on POWER9 processors. Currently, Google’s entire toolchain supports POWER architecture. With Google being a founding member of the OpenPOWER foundation, it would not be surprising if IBM Power Systems with POWER9 processors found their way into Google’s own data centers.

POWER9’s Bold New Technology

POWER9 chips are heavyweights, weighing in at 8 billion transistors. They come with 24 cores, which is 2x more than POWER8 chips. This capability enables manufacturers and system makers to more easily optimize chips for workloads, particularly in scale-out environments.

These multiple cores provide multiple ports for supporting high-performance accelerators—like GPUs, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs)—to help run tasks related to databases, cognitive computing, and hyperscale web serving. This means that manufacturers can fine-tune their data centers for specific purposes and draw the best performance out of their hardware for a specific task.

POWER9 chips are also the first microprocessors with PCI-Express 4.0, doubling the interconnected performance bandwidth of PCI-Express 3.0, the current bus standard. Bandwidth will improve from 8 gigatransfers per second to 16, while also introducing new technologies to boost energy efficiency by lowering power used in idle mode. Additionally, POWER9 is the first chip to feature NVLink 2.0, throughput technology for graphics processors, which will provide bandwidth of up to 25 gigabits per second.

On top of all of these benefits, IBM will license Power Systems POWER9 architecture so companies can build their own custom chips. While most server makers are simply incorporating POWER9 chips into their servers, customizable chips mean that IBM can actually modify processors at the request of the customer. This innovation could gain the attention of giants like Facebook, who design their own servers and have publicly acknowledged that they request specific chips from chip makers.

POWER9 and the Rapid Growth of Cloud Computing

Big data is driving cloud computing. By 2019, it is projected that 86% of workloads will be processed by cloud data centers. Just like its competitors, IBM wants in on the game, and that means open ecosystems and the fast power of POWER9.

Beyond the OpenPOWER Foundation, IBM has been touting its 18-year relationship with Linux. Back in 1999, IBM vowed to Linux-enable all of their hardware platforms. Through Ubuntu, Red Hat, and SUSE, IBM has already made it relatively easy to port Linux applications from Intel’s x86 platform to Linux on Power Systems.

In addition, with the high processing speeds of POWER8, IBM Watson was built on Linux on Power to drive high-performance computing in demanding workloads like genomics, finance, and performance data analytics. These workloads are already getting a substantial upgrade with POWER9 microprocessors, and IBM Power Systems will only continue to grow faster.

POWER10 chips are poised to come after 2020 with new microarchitecture. Also, with IBM’s involvement in OpenStack software tools for building and managing cloud computing for public and private clouds, IBM Power Systems have a competitive case for their POWER chips, infrastructure and open source relationships to fuel the growth of cloud computing for years to come.

Linux on IBM Power Systems White Paper