This week I am in beautiful Orlando, Florida for the [IBM Systems Technical University] conference.
Amy Hirst, IBM Director, z Systems, Power, & Storage Technical Training, kicked off the general session.
Dr. Seshadri "Sesha" Subbanna, IBM Corporate Innovation and Technology Evaluation, asked the audience what capability is needed to drive business growth. A recent poll indicated that the ability for businesses to innovate was the number one response.
The IT industry has had its own version of growth. Consider the Appollo 11 [Guidance Computer] had just 4KB or RAM, and 36KB or ROM. A typical smartphone has 62,000,000 times as much.
The Appollo missions led and motivated the Integrated-Circuit technology, but soon, maybe in the next 10 years, Dr. Subbanna feels that Silicon may run its course. Today, both POWER8 and z13 servers are based on 22nm. IBM has projected possible reductions to 17nm, 13nm, 10nm, and finally 7nm. That's it, smaller than 7nm may not be possible without hitting atomic issues.
While social media, mobile phones and the Internet of Things (IoT) generate a lot data. If you then factor the "context multiplier effect" of all the links, connections and cross-references, you quickly see that data is growing at incredible rates. The City of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2010, heavy rains resulted in flooding and landslides that killed over 110 residents. To prevent such high death rates in the future, IBM helped the city government predictive analytics and forecasting that allows "rain simulations" to see how well the city can handle different situations.
IBM is already looking for a more holistic view of systems, and new technologies like cognitive computing. New 3D technology allows various chip technologies to be stacked as layers on a single chip. For example, you could have computer on the bottom layer, flash non-volatile storage in middle layers, and networking at top layer. Connecting the layers is merely a matter of drilling holds and filling them with metal.
The idea that compute is the center of the universe, with a mainframe server surrounded by input and output "peripheral" storage devices, is giving way to a more storage-centric model, where central storage repositories (or data lakes) are accessed by "peripheral" smartphones, tablets and variety of servers. For example, the IBM DB2 Accerlation Appliance acts as a storage-centric model that IBM z System mainframes can connect to, send data in, process complex database queries, and get the results 2000x faster.
CPU processors are also getting help from co-processor accelerators like GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) and FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Arrays). Comparing a single IBM POWER8 server that is CAPI-attached to an IBM FlashSystem to a stack of x86 servers with internal SSD, the POWER8 solution connsumes 12x less rackspace, consumes 12x less electricity, and reduces per-user costs from $24/user for x86 down to $7.50/user on POWER8.
Another issue is the difficulty to identify application inter-dependencies. Forecasting disruptive anamolies can be quite difficult. In one example, adminstrators received warning messages 65 minutes before a major outage, but they did not respond in time because they were unable to understand the full implications.
Cognitive computing is different than the tabulating and programming paradigms of prior decades. It is focused on Natural Language Processing, citing evidence to base responsed, and the ability to learn and improve based on learning from experience. The IBM Watson group is working with Memorial Sloane Kettering to help oncology doctors with cancer patients.
In an interesting demo, IBM Watson computer analyzed thousands of "TED Talk" videos, and is able to respond to search queries by playing a 30-second video clip that addresses that topic.
Cognitive computing is also looking at "Neuro-Synaptic" chips that work very much like the neurons and synapses in the brain. I have seen some of this work already at the IBM Almaden Research Center in California.
The general session ended with a Q&A panel with Dr. Subbanna, Frank De Gilio, and Bill Starke.