by Jeff Scheel, IBM Linux on Power Chief Engineer
Never before in my almost 25 year history with IBM have I anticipated a launch like that of our latest POWER8 systems. This launch releases the next generation of POWER processors in 1- and 2-socket scale-out servers with a focus on delivering new Linux solutions, especially in the area of open source clouds built on KVM – a dream come true for this “Chief Engineer.”
For me, the most important announcement is the release of an IBM KVM product, PowerKVM, on our POWER8 Linux-only servers, the S812L and S822L. For the past year, we have worked very hard in the open source communities to enable this open virtualization technology. Even though IBM is the first to offer KVM on Power Systems with our own product, rest assured that it has been enabled in a way such that any Linux partner can provide their own product. In fact, key open source community distributions such as Fedora 20 and openSUSE 13.2 have already been enabled. IBM remains committed to enabling Power Systems as a platform for open innovation.
The launch of this product marks the start of a new era in virtualization—convergence of hypervisors. As I've stated explicitly in my last blog, “Is PowerLinux a New Platform? Not really...” and have talked about in multiple forums for the past couple years, hypervisor commonality will be the next place enterprises save money. KVM unleashes the potential for a a single hypervisor to run all platforms in the Enterprise as it continues to mature over the next 5-7 years, just as the Linux operating system has done so in the past 10 years. In the meantime, PowerKVM provides an excellent opportunity for customers to leverage synergies with KVM and OpenStack to build light weight, flexible, highly virtualized cloud solutions. KVM on Power (from IBM or anyone else wishing to release a version) will look and act just like KVM on x86, making it an excellent choice for new customers on the platform to exploit POWER8 benefits while greatly reducing the learning curve to a bare minimum.
My excitement about this launch continues with the POWER8 processor. This generation of processors will thrive in the data-centric generation of cloud computing. Growth of the maximum number of cores per socket from 8 to 12, increases in the hardware threads per core from 4 to 8, significant improvement in the single thread performance over previous generations, and integration of a PCIe Gen3 controller into the chip will provide applications plenty of resources for big data and analytic workloads. In addition to the traditional “bigger, better, faster, stronger” enhancements associated with a new processor generation, the POWER8 processor also adds two exciting new technologies—CAPI (Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface) for connecting accelerators directly into the system and a new processor mode to access memory in a little endian format. These processors technologies will fuel software innovation for years to come.
CAPI enables POWER8 processors and out-of-core accelerators like GPUs (graphics processing units) and FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) to cache-coherently share memory with the applications running on the main processors as if they were “in-core”. This greatly simplifies application acceleration design which has traditionally required meticulously planing of shared memory usage through techniques such as pinned memory. Look for nVidia, our new OpenPOWER partner, to leverage this technology as they help bring GPU-based solutions to Power Systems in the coming months. Meanwhile, IBM will combine CAPI with FPGAs and emerging software applications like Redis to overcome traditional performance limitations.
Support for little endian mode in the POWER8 processor enables a new generation of applications. While I plan to devote future blog entries to this topic, let me take a moment to address some basic facts about the technology. First, the traditional POWER operating systems (AIX, and IBM i) are big endian and will continue to run as such on POWER8 and future systems. Second, Linux operating systems over time will be migrating from being big endian to little endian in an organized way that by no means compromises the support cycles for their existing releases. Third, as little endian operating systems come to market, a new little endian application ecosystem will grow. Given that most applications today support one or more little endian operating systems (Windows or x86 Linux) and at least one big endian operating system (Linux on Power, AIX, or z/OS), this ecosystem should grow quickly. Finally, little endian mode on POWER8 is not a magic bullet: compiled x86 Linux applications will still require a recompile at a minimum because the x86 and Power instruction set architectures are still different. With this new support, Power will simplify on step in the porting process for new applications, but to develop the whole ecosystem will take time.
Finally, as I look at this first set of POWER8 systems, my excitement peaks over the form factor in these initial offerings and the solutions they will enable. For the first time in as long as I can remember, we are bringing our newest technology to the entry, scale-out servers with 1- and 2-socket servers in 2u and 4u footprints. Complement the offering with a continuation of the total cost of acquisition (TCA) competitive “Linux-only” servers, the S812L, S822L, and S824L models, and the Linux market can benefit immediately. Add a new Linux operating systems from Canonical, Ubuntu version 14.04, and new applications from SugarCRM, CFEngine, Redis Labs and Zend and the platform takes a huge leap forward in open innovation.
PowerKVM, POWER8, scale-out servers, and new Linux solutions. Wow! This POWER8 launch delivers so many new technologies from the processor through the software offerings enabled with KVM. It's truly hard not to sound like Buzz Lightyear from the movie Toy Story who frequently hollers, “To infinity and beyond!” If you are a POWER customer, you should be excited about the new solutions these new servers provide for you. If you are new to POWER, combine Linux with KVM to explore the benefits of the platform. The future is here. What will you do with it?