IBM Unveils Power8 Chip As Open Hardware - InformationWeek

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4/23/2014
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IBM Unveils Power8 Chip As Open Hardware

Google and other OpenPower Foundation partners express interest in IBM's Power8 chip designs and server motherboard specs.

it has re-engineered the chip to make it more open to third-party modification and use.

It has dispensed with the Power7's GX++ interface to external communications and substituted the Coherence Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI) on top of the serial expansion bus for connecting peripherals. Nvidia will use CAPI to tie its latest graphics processor unit directly into the Power8 CPU. Doing so means both processors may share the same memory and closely coordinate their tasks. CAPI could also be used to connect an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to a Power8 or a field-programmable gate array, which can be programmed by a third party or Power8 server customer to do work the customer wants in connection with the CPU.

"This is the first truly disruptive advancement in high-end server technology in decades," said Tom Rosamilia, senior VP, IBM Systems and Technology Group, in the announcement. He said both IBM customers and third parties will be able to design new data-handling applications based on the Power8 architecture. IBM has optimized its own big-data software systems to run on Power8, including IBM Solution for BLU Acceleration, IBM Solution for Analytics, and IBM Solution for Hadoop.

IBM also announced it will support Ubuntu Server on Power8 for the first time, along with previously supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Suse Linux.

Sibley says the Power8 architecture's expanding feature set, along with its big-data handling capabilities, made it more attractive to partners and third parties. By building a wider ecosystem, IBM will ultimately find a wider market for its Power chips.

One way to exploit the CAPI interface is to produce applications that manage the hardware resources for specific purposes. IBM will produce an optimization program for exploiting a flash drawer -- a set of flash drives on a rackmounted tray that slides in and out. Closely tied to the CPU, such a flash memory pool could be used to augment RAM or caching operations in connection with data-intensive applications, such as Hadoop or other NoSQL systems, he says.

"You will see workload-specific acceleration applications," he predicts, asserting that the wider bandwidth for data movement built into the chip, along with on-chip memory controllers, gives the Power8 the ability to move data four times as fast as comparable x86 systems.

The starting price on a Power8 server is $7,973.

Could the growing movement toward open-source hardware rewrite the rules for computer and networking hardware the way Linux, Apache, and Android have for software? Also in the Open Source Hardware issue of InformationWeek: Mark Hurd explains his "once-in-a-career opportunity" at Oracle.

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/23/2014 | 1:43:57 PM
Power architecture delivers more per watt
To reduce this discussion to simplistic terms: Power costs more than x86, but for the space and power used, it delivers more per watt. This didn't use to matter as much as being able to get a new piece of hardware at low cost on which to run an application. And indeed IBM makes no mention of Power's efficient energy consumption in this announcement. But in the cloud, space and power consumed matter. IBM is bidding for a bigger future for its Power archiectecture. Google is standing alongside it, for what purpose, I don't know. But it could be more than just some specialized big data handling.
tresfou
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tresfou,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2014 | 2:37:48 PM
CAPI ?
I think that CAPI stands for something else - Coherent Attached Processor interface. 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
4/23/2014 | 3:06:26 PM
IBM Needs To Spread the Power Investment
Designing and building chips is an expensive proposition, so IBM needs to spread the invetment as broadly as it can. With Unix server sales declining and with Z systems encroaching a bit from above (with workload consolidation) and X86 moving up from below, Power is squeezed in the middle. IBM really had to look outside of its own universe for more Power-related revenue opportunities, even if it's not building the chips or servers.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/23/2014 | 3:17:27 PM
Re: CAPI?
Thanks to tresfou below for pointing out that what CAPI stands for was not spelled out correctly. It should be: Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface. The reporter is misreading his own shorthand.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/24/2014 | 2:02:33 PM
How is OpenPower different from OpenCompute?
IBM would like OpenPower to be viewed as the equivalent of Facebook's Open Compute Project and Open Compute Foundation for the x86 architecture. How is it different? For one thing, I don't see major users, such as Fidelity Investments or Goldman Sachs, included.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
4/24/2014 | 8:47:26 PM
Re: How is OpenPower different from OpenCompute?
Would companies need to pay IBM for fabrication rights? If yes, then "Open" should be viewed as the ability to modify a chip for better utilization. It could be that the Power architecture's business model is becoming like ARM i.e. they would like to design chips and leave fabrication (modification) to someone else. 
BeeR435
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BeeR435,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/27/2014 | 2:35:25 PM
POWER 8
Nice to see the Power architecture/technology still going and evolving.  This may not be for everyone - or even a majority, yet it does not have to be ... it is always good to have promising alternatives and alternate solutions.

It does sound like IBM's Power is turning into more of an ARM style 'ecosystm' where they build and test the design and others license and actually make a product from this.  I also think nVidia does this (or  used to) with their graphics cards.

And as someone said, 'compute per watt' is important ... it does cost a lot to keep those data centers running cool (and keep the equipment in the safe zone).
anon3765816516
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anon3765816516,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/27/2014 | 3:37:38 PM
how many transistors does the chip have?
I have read in other articles that the chip contains 2.1 billion transistors.  Your number is twice that.  Which is correct.
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