IBM ‘Openly’ Rancorous At Enterprise Event
October 13, 2014 Dan Burger
IBM is poised to redefine enterprise IT. Of course, IBM pretty much defined it in the first place, so you have to take that into account. And with poise in short supply in IT, maybe self-assured is a better description. IBM surely lacked no confidence as it put on a show for its enterprise customers last week in Las Vegas, where talk of billion dollar investments, trailblazing new technologies, and pioneering open systems partnerships attempted to outshine the city of lights.
With the final paperwork completed on the sale of IBM’s System x X86 server business just a week ahead of this annual conference, there was an apparent edginess in the air about taking on Intel and makers of Xeon-based systems, IBM’s unequivocal adversaries.
If there was any doubt in the rough-edged relationship between Big Blue and its conspicuous rival, Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of Systems and Technology Group, led off his press conference by quietly boasting about no longer being in the commodity Intel server business and no longer being dependent on Intel for any server technology. “That’s a significant change for us,” he pointed out, “as it allows us to focus all our innovation and technology and investments around Power and mainframe servers and storage.”
The change Rosamilia referred to is not new. It was laid out to a large degree before the sale of the System x server line to Lenovo. What was laid out at the Enterprise2014 conference was mostly an update of the progress.
To underscore the separation from Intel, IBM emphasized the changes that were overturning the traditional chip making business and turning out the lights on silicon chips, which IBM is betting will reach the end of their performance lifecycle in the next seven to 10 years. Customers will continue to demand performance, but delivering that takes acceleration technology in the short term and new technology in the long term. IBM has a $3 billion investment in discovering and delivering the post-silicon performance that will put its Power Systems and mainframe computing systems ahead of its commodity competition. Several avenues are being explored by IBM including neurosystems, carbon nanotubes, and other options with no clear cut favorite.
A $3 billion investment over five years is what IBM brings to the table along with its formidable armada of engineering talent (3,000 technical professionals work in IBM Research). That bankroll has to cover the technology discovery and also the tooling that delivers that technology, which will be applied to both Power and mainframe processors.
Dave McQueeney, vice president of computing as a service and IBM research scientist, was on stage to talk about processor technology and fire a few shots in the general direction of Intel. His aim was to explain about processors being the essential foundation for systems of record. His evidence was the Power8 chip with its 12 cores and eight threads per core being designed with data accelerators and enterprise analytics in mind.
“Let me just geek out for one second,” he told the audience as he explained getting the right engine for the right workload. “As more accelerators are added to the system, you want it to be coherent with the cache memory. That concept led to the coherence bus, a feature that allows accelerators to take up residence within the processors, adding impressive performance gains as part of the deal. It also allows Open Power, which is crucial to what IBM sees as a differentiator between its strategy and Intel’s.” He was referring to the Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface on the Power8 chip, or CAPI.
The evidence of the OpenPower Foundation, now with 61 members, was on display at this event and IBM was eager to show it off. Nvidia was the chosen Foundation partner to be in the spotlight. It was one of the first five companies in the foundation and IBM demonstrated that its data analytics acceleration software running in conjunction with Tesla GPU coprocessors makes a good-looking Power8 chip look even better.
“This is much different than what is coming out of the Intel commodity space where innovation is attempted to be driven by one company,” Rosamilia took time to mention before adding. “Innovation is needed in the server market.”
Analytics was clearly the star attraction at Enterprise2014, with cloud and mobile trends feeding analytics and Power processing and OpenPower being the obvious choice over Intel and its proprietary ways.
Doug Balog, general manager of the Power Systems division, added more to the “IBM open-Intel closed” theme. He connected the dots that showed new workloads that are coming from “an open set of standards, an open set of software, an open set of protocols, and an open set of capabilities.”
OpenPower and OpenStack were given their respective pats on the back, with Balog praising the community for creating new applications that Power customers may not have considered running on that platform before. The members of this community, Balog said, are “companies working with a single purpose of not letting one company (guess who) set the innovation agenda.”
Doug Balog, general manager of the Power Systems division.
Backing up that unconditional declaration of superiority was the right-mindedness of IBM’s support of Linux, which was bolstered by IBM’s reminder that a year ago it began its second $1 billion dollar investment in Linux. The first helped Linux get established in the mainframe community. This one is earmarked for advancements in Linux on Power, which receives a substantial performance boosts when it gets plugged into Power8 servers and hooked in with Nvidia’s CUDA parallel software environment.
Promises around Linux on Power were first made about 16 months ago. The introduction of SUSE’s Little Endian Linux was celebrated at the Enterprise2014 conference.
IBM officials and advocates added storage to the list of highlights celebrated at this conference. Software defined storage, which is based on IBM’s General Parallel File Systems for supercomputers and which is packaged as the Elastic Storage on Power8 platforms–using both disk and flash–was presented as being designed for large workloads that are arriving courtesy of mobile and analytics and largely the result of unstructured data, which is estimated to be 80 percent of the data collected.