More Power8 Announcements Coming Next Month
September 15, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It looks like you should pencil in the first week of October for some pretty big Power Systems announcements from IBM. We know that IBM has planned to get some additional Power Systems machines in the field before the end of the year, and it is looking like the big event will be at the Enterprise2014 conference that Big Blue is hosting in Las Vegas.
Enterprise2014 is the third big event that IBM is putting on in Vegas this year, and the theme of the conference is “the infrastructure for cloud, data, and engagement.” That pretty much covers everything but back-end, card-walloping systems like IBM mainframes and midrange equipment, at least to one way of thinking. But, to another way of thinking, these venerable systems are now getting into position to be the systems for cloud, data, and engagement. If this is not the case, then why would IBM be talking about this topic at an event that is largely focused on its mainframe and Power Systems platforms?
The Enterprise2014 conference is actually three different events that have been converged: The IBM System z Technical University, the IBM Power Systems Technical University, and the Enterprise Executive Summit. Jeff Jonas, who is one of the brightest researchers in data analytics and probably the best speaker who gets a paycheck from Big Blue, will be giving one of the keynotes. Tom Rosamilia, who is general manager of the Systems and Technology Group, IBM’s hardware and systems software arm, will be there as well and so will be Doug Balog, general manager of the Power Systems division. On the Power Systems front, Terri Virnig, vice president of Power ecosystem and strategy is also going to be speaking. So it looks like something big relating to Power Systems is coming down the pike.
And last week, COMMON, the Power Systems user group that focuses mainly on IBM i but also does education and training for AIX and Linux on Power-based machines, sent out an invitation to join an October 8 webcast to go over the IBM i and Power announcements. So that right there has let the cat out of the bag that something is up. Alison Butterill, product offering manager for the IBM i platform, Steve Will, IBM i chief architect, and Mark Olson, Power Systems product offering manager, are hosting this webinar and they are the usual posse these days for big product launches that have an IBM i component.
My expectation is that IBM will get a four-socket machine into the field using the Power8 chips, and that as has been the case since the Power5 generation, IBM will allow up to four of these machines to be lashed together with NUMA electronics to create a single system image with up to 16 sockets. IBM has been building systems like this since the Power5 generation a decade ago, and when something works, you stick with it. I have not seen any announcements yet, but I suspect it is a 3U or 4U enclosure with lots of room for CPUs and disks and flash, and in days gone by we would call the base machine a Power 850 and the multinode machine the Power 870. There would be variants with more local peripherals called the Power 860 and another variant with faster CPUs and maybe more I/O called the Power 880. But IBM doesn’t do it that way anymore. IBM could stick with the S designation for scale-up (as it already uses for the scale-out Power S812L, S814, S822, S822L, and S824 machines), but I think it will go with an E for enterprise, and I think the latter is more likely because IBM has been calling these “enterprise” rather than “scale-out” machines. So in that case, the base machine is going to be the Power E844, which means an enterprise machine with a Power8 processor with a 4U enclosure and having four sockets. There could and probably will be a Power E854, which has more peripheral capacity and is a follow-on to the Power 760+ machine. The Power E8416 should be the name of a sixteen-socket machine based on a 4U chassis with four nodes linked together.
I think it is highly likely that IBM will be positioning this Enterprise-class Power8 machine to run in-memory databases and other kinds of analytics that will benefit from an internal, high-speed interconnect that offers more bandwidth and lower latency than is possible with either 10 Gb/sec or 40 Gb/sec Ethernet or 56 Gb/sec InfiniBand networks linking in over the PCI-Express peripheral bus. There is even an outside chance that IBM has worked with Mellanox Technologies to tightly bind its InfiniBand and maybe even Ethernet adapters to the Power8 processors using the Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI). It would be very interesting to see how IBM and Mellanox could tightly bind network cards to processors and get very low latency links and shared memory across the network using a souped-up version of Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA). I know for a fact that IBM is already working on tightly coupling flash storage and field programmable gate array (FPGA) accelerators to the Power8 chips using CAPI, and there is a good reason to believe IBM is working with Nvidia on some means of hooking Tesla GPU accelerators to Power8 iron.
Whatever IBM is up to with future Power8 systems, we will probably know for sure in less than a month.