Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Acceleration, Collaboration, Innovation - IBM's roadmap for its POWER architecture

By Bill Moran and Rich Ptak

Vendors know the wisdom of publishing a product roadmap. Users want to know the planned future
of the products that they might invest in. They also want insight into how the vendor sees the product evolving.

So, IBM has reason to present the POWER architecture’s future to potential customers and partners. Having successfully persuaded many companies to sign up for OpenPOWER systems IBM must address questions concerning the future of the product’s architecture. IBM laid out its architectural strategy along with some specifics on its future. We discuss key takeaways from that presentation.

NVLink will be available in systems later this year and be carried forward in future systems. Notice that NVLink and CAPI are both specialized technologies for boosting certain kinds of performance. Combined with various architectural changes, they compensate for the rundown of Moore’s Law. Expect to see more such technologies in the future.

The current POWER8 system architecture is based on a 22 nm chip with 12 cores. Announced in 2014, IBM plans to continue with that base until mid-2017. The major enhancement to current version is the addition of NVIDIA NVLink. This acts as an extremely high –speed interconnect link between the chip and an NVIDIA GPU. The link delivers 80 GB per second in each direction. This is 5 to 12 times faster than today’s fastest available link.  The NVIDIA GPU accelerates floating point operations and other numerically intensive operations that are common in cognitive computing, analytics, and high performance computing.

Featuring partner-developed microprocessors in a roadmap is unique to IBM. It dramatically underscores the vitality of OpenPOWER activities. To our knowledge, no other hardware vendor has achieved anything like this!

IBM and its partners will build systems to take maximum advantage of this link which allows parallel processing using NVIDIA GPU's. IBM identified two additional partners, Zoom Netcom and Inventec Corporation. Zoom is a China-based system board developer. Inventec is a Taiwan-based server and laptop company. We expect both of these companies to be working on systems for their focus areas.

In mid-2017, IBM will begin rolling out Power9, a 14 nm chip versus today’s 22 nm Power8. IBM will first introduce a 24 core scale-out system. This will be followed sometime later with scale-up versions. There was no statement on the number of cores in scale up systems. The POWER9 systems will feature a new micro-architecture built around 24 newly redesigned cores and including a number of high-speed cache and memory interconnects including DDR4 direct attach memory channels, PCIe gen4 and custom accelerators from IBM and its partners.

In the time period between 2018 and 2019 IBM expects its partners to announce chip offerings based on IP from both Power8 and Power9, based on 10 to 7 nm technology. Partners will be targeting offerings to their own specialized market segments.

While IBM avoided any claims, we expect these systems’ shrinking chip technology will have some dramatic effects (upward) on demand. It’s also clear the partners expect to gain significant competitive and business advantages from their efforts.

Power10, expected sometime after 2020, is the next large step into the future. IBM provided no details on features or performance. Typical for a product at least 4 years away.

IBM will offer two Power9 families. Initially the focus will be scale-out systems with a maximum of 24 cores. Later, scale-up systems will be added, presumably with a larger number of cores. They will share a common architecture.

This road map shows that IBM along with other members of the OpenPOWER Foundation are developing Power at an increasing rate. Remember, IBM’s POWER group faces a number of unique and new challenges. No other major vendor has ever attempted to develop new hardware in collaboration with numerous partners ala the OpenPOWER Foundation.

Also, since selling its chip production facilities to Global Foundries, IBM’s POWER people must negotiate with an outside company. We believe that IBM’s POWER team are doing an exceptional job in coping with these difficulties. If they deliver on the items in this road map, the architecture should remain competitive. Chips developed by other companies provide both a roadmap highlight and effectively demonstrate Power Foundation’s strength.

Here is our simplified version of the road-map (with acknowledgement to IBM):

        Today                2H 2016               2017                   TBD                2018-2019           2020+
12 cores
12 cores
24 cores
? cores

Scale out
New Arch
Scale up
Partner developed.

22 nm
22 nm
14 nm
14 nm
10-7 nm

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