Pages

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The newest IBM Power Systems – more of everything for the hottest environments!

By Bill Moran and Rich Ptak

IBM recently introduced three new Linux-based (LC) Power Systems targeting the hottest workload environments. These POWER8-based, enhanced models are configured to satisfy system cost, performance and processing demands of Big Data, cognitive, GPU, dense computing and memory intensive, high throughput processing. When compared to a Dell system, the newly announced IBM S822LC for HPC achieved 2.5 times the performance with costs of hardware and maintenance 52% lower! Let’s review the details.

IBM’s LC family servers are designed and cost optimized for “scale-out” multi-server cloud and cluster configured environments to satisfy customer preferences for clouds over expanding on-premise data centers.

IBM’s new lineup of LC models includes:

  1. The S822LC for Big Data
  2. The S822LC for Commercial Computing
  3. An S822 LC for High Performance with a new version POWER8 chip and a very high speed link between the CPU and onboard GPUs.
Other family members include:

  1.  An “entry level” S812LC targeting customers with new memory intensive, Big Data workloads.
  2.  An S821LC with 2 POWER8 Sockets (processors) in a 1U form factor for computing in dense database, virtualization and container environments.
We created this table to highlight key features of the different models:

                  Model             # of CPUs       #sockets       Max Cores       # GPUs       Max threads 
S812LC
1
1
8 or 10
--
80
S821LC
2
2
16 or 20
1
160
S822LC for
Big Data
2
2
20
2
160
S822LC for
Commercial
2
2
20
1
160
S822LC for
High Perf.
2
2
20
4
160

Ten-core systems have a 2.92 GHZ version of POWER8, while the 8-core systems have a 3.32 GHz chip. All include what IBM calls a 9x5, 3-year warranty with next day service.

IBM’s website[1] has additional details on other system characteristics that may be important to existing or planned applications.

Some Key Considerations

Complementing the scale-out systems are scale-up systems, IBM E870 and IBM E880. These may be more appropriate for some applications. We do not discuss those here.

The S822LC for High Performance system has characteristics worth mentioning. There is the water cooling option which allows a turbo high speed mode to be used extensively. Also, it uses a new version Power8 chip with a special link to the GPUs in the system significantly speeding up the connection between the GPU and the CPU. IBM reports the old GPU-to-CPU connection speed via a PCIe link was 32GB/sec. The new NVLink clocks out at 80 GB/sec. This leads us to a discussion of system performance.

Performance Background

IBM is very clear they believe the X86 has hit a barrier regarding Moore’s law predictions of future performance improvements. Moore’s law relates to technological performance enhancements over time. See this note.[2] As long as the law applies, price/performance improvements were possible. However, physics is invalidating the law for some existing technology. IBM (and others) believe system architecture changes, not raw hardware speeds are the more likely source of necessary future performance improvements[3].

Building on this philosophy, IBM is making changes and adding interfaces to Power Systems to drive greater performance. A recent example is CAPI, which we have written about elsewhere, drives large improvements in applications using in-memory databases, support of many more threads per core than comparable X86 system and allows more to be done, faster. Adding Graphical Processing Units (GPU) NVLink technology to S822LC for High Performance are other examples of improvement.

Of course, such improvements can only benefit those applications able to take advantage of them. IBM identified those applications (emerging and existing) to gain market advantage by providing systems optimized (cost, price and performance) for such applications. This is the strategy to design and optimize systems for significant market segments.  

Performance Data

IBM has released performance and price performance data matching the latest Power Systems to comparable Intel Systems. Details appear at this URL.[4]

Summarizing IBM’s results, the best performing Power8 system, IBM S822LC for HPC, achieved 2.5 times the performance of a comparable Dell system with 52% lower hardware and maintenance costs. The S822LC for Big Data managed 40% better performance than a Comparable HP system with 31% lower hardware and maintenance costs. It appears that with comparable hardware and number of cores, Power8 systems will outperform Intel-based systems and also have a price performance advantage.

There are caveats about these results. The benchmarks are not industry standard. They are not supported by the TPC or Spec. IBM has made the effort to be transparent by documenting what they did. In the past, when we investigated IBM benchmarks of this type; we found them to be honest and accurate. We believe someone could repeat the benchmarks and get the same results. Having said that, it still remains a fact that any vendor-run benchmark will be suspect in the minds of some.

The IBM results are very useful to make a potential purchaser aware of potentially significant advantages of Power Systems. We recommend potential customers examine Power Systems to determine the potential for benefit in their environment.

Other Considerations

Intel holds the dominant position in the generic server market. We believe customers benefit from competition in an open market. We therefore support other options whether ARM-based or from AMD.

POWER8 provides a realistic alternative. We hope it flourishes. We find the growth of the OpenPOWER Foundation to over 260 companies encouraging. Note, we are not saying to blindly choose a non-Intel alternative. We do believe sensible customers should carefully evaluate all options to determine the best architecture for their business. 

IBM Power Systems possess some significant advantages for specific application types and to leverage new technologies, e.g. Big Data, analytics, AI-Cognitive Computing (Watson), etc. where customers are now investing. Take a look, and decide for yourselves. 



[2] An interesting article about Moore’s law (actually more an observation than a law) and its current state is in Wikipedia. Our opinion is that it supports IBM’s position. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law.