big data

by Kendall Hatch • @Kendall_at_WIS

Power Systems transform with a focus on openness, flexibility

Published April 15, 2015


IBM Power, long a bastion of technical computing, big iron, and proprietary products, has been undergoing a reformation, placing a new premium on openness as it positions itself to further enhance cloud and big data solutions.

Two years after the launch of the OpenPOWER Foundation, amid a $325 million project to build a pair of supercomputers for the U.S. Department of Energy, Doug Balog, General Manager of IBM Power Systems, says Power is fresh off a stretch of transformational work and stands to offer clients new ways to optimize performance with big data insights through an open, flexible platform.

Since the launch of the OpenPOWER Foundation, the cooperative has seen marked growth, now numbering over 100 members. The OpenPOWER Foundation, according to IBM, encourages the adoption of open server architecture for data centers. The effort has been bearing fruit with a bevy of recent announcements relating to hardware solutions built collaboratively by OpenPOWER members.

The move has helped shift the perception of Power from an entity that holds its technologies close to the vest to one with a firm embrace of open collaboration.

“Power has been in the market for over 20, 25 years. We have a long, wonderful heritage around technical computing, big iron, proprietary,” Balog says. “What we have done with Power over the last 18 months is start to change this conversation to align with the market around data, cloud, and openness. Those have been the three lynchpins of the Power strategy we have set in place.”

What we have done with Power over the last 18 months is start to change this conversation to align with the market around data, cloud, and openness. Those have been the three lynchpins of the Power strategy we have set in place.

Doug Balog, General Manager, IBM Power Systems

POWER8, Balog says, has been specifically designed from the ground up to address the big data challenges faced by businesses today.

“If we engage in a client conversation around their big data challenges, data management, data analytics, data growth, and focus there, that’s where the conversation is the most fruitful,” Balog says. “And we have real advantages in performance and footprint and all of the innovation we built into the product.”

The OpenPOWER Foundation has been a driver of new engagement as well, Balog said.

“OpenPOWER is a door-opener. It captures the imagination of, ‘Wow, I never thought you would do that, IBM. I never thought you would take power and open it up like that.’ The client that I was talking to right before this said it’s kind of like opening up the crown jewels,” Balog says. “We’re bringing open source software models to open source hardware.”

The foundation held its inaugural OpenPOWER Summit this spring, announcing a bevy of new products and prototypes, including new systems, boards, and cards, as well as a microprocessor customized for China. The offerings include the first commercially available OpenPOWER server, the TYAN TN71-BP012, the first GPU-accelerated OpenPOWER developer platform, the Cirrascale RM4950, and an open server specification and motherboard mock-up combining OpenPOWER, Open Compute, and OpenStack.

Industry analysts came away from the event impressed with the foundation’s progress. Rich Ptak of Ptak Associates says, “Proven enormously successful with Linux, the open-source software concept profoundly impacted the software industry while significantly benefiting both vendors and users. OpenPOWER Foundation members have made significant progress in repeating the pattern, thereby releasing open-source system benefits. It is still too early to predict the final outcome with certainty, but signs are positive. Success will end Intel’s uncontested dominance of x86-based servers.”

SoftLayer to offer bare metal servers
Another one of its bigger recent announcements, IBM announced this spring that SoftLayer is to offer OpenPOWER-based bare metal servers as part of its cloud-based portfolio, allowing clients to better manage data on public and private clouds.

“We’ve talked about the cloud a lot and the role OpenPOWER plays for us in terms of providing access to the cloud market in the way clients want to buy infrastructure—not the way I want to sell it, but the way they want to buy it,” Balog says. “Every cloud has a standard, but they all have different standards. That’s why it was so important to build that OpenPower ecosystem, now of over 100 members, and enable that whole model for cloud buyers.”

IBM worked with fellow OpenPOWER Foundation members Tyan and Mellanox Technologies to develop the SoftLayer bare metal servers, which run Linux applications and are based on the IBM POWER8 architecture.

For us, just like everywhere else, big data is the buzz word that everybody hears. We have enormous data problems and data analysis problems on our system. On this machine, we’re looking at an extremely large memory.

Buddy Bland, Director, Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility

OpenPOWER-based supercomputers tackle big data for U.S. DOE
When it comes to big data, it doesn’t get much bigger than the workloads processed on the supercomputers at the Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories. IBM was recently awarded a $325 million contract to build two new OpenPOWER-based machines to replace the supercomputers currently at the facilities.

Dubbed Summit and Sierra, the systems will use a data-centric approach, putting computing power everywhere data resides and allowing for blazing-fast insights by converging analytics, modeling, visualization, and simulation.

Each system will have a peak performance in excess of 100 petaflops, as well as more than five petaflops of dynamic and flash memory. The systems will be able to move data to the processor at 17 petabytes per second.

Buddy Bland, Director of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, explains that the Summit computer slated to be installed will be five to 10 times more powerful than the machine there now.

“For us, just like everywhere else, big data is the buzz word that everybody hears. We have enormous data problems and data analysis problems on our system.  On this machine, we’re looking at an extremely large memory,” Bland says. “So that gives us enormous capability to solve really large problems and get a lot of data aggregated on a node so you can do analysis on it.”

Oak Ridge opens up its computer for researchers, academics, scientists, and others who write proposals in a bid to use the facility. Bland says that Summit, which will be the size of a basketball court or bigger, will allow for faster and higher resolution simulations.

The machine, which will be delivered in 2017 and 2018, will run on the next iteration of POWER processors, POWER9, as well as NVIDIA graphical processing units. Mellanox Technologies will provide the system interconnect, linking the various pieces together with its InfiniBand technology, Bland says. All three organizations are founding members of the OpenPOWER Foundation.

Up next for Power
Growth has been rapid, but Balog says Power is just getting started. The foundation laid over the last two years gives a good base for further innovation, he says.

“2015 is going to be really an exciting year for Power. We did a lot of this transformational work over the last 18 months. When you’re transforming something from where you’ve been to where the market is, changing the dialogue with clients, opening up the platform, and delivering new products along the way, it’s hard, hard work,” Balog says. “This is not just next-generation technology, this is a complete transformation. But now that poises us for real growth throughout 2015.”



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