IBM ‘Returns to HPC’ with New Linux Server Line Says Gupta

By John Russell

October 8, 2015

IBM today launched a new line of Power8-based Linux servers – the Power LC (Linux cluster) Line – including one offering that marks IBM’s return to the HPC market, according to Sumit Gupta, vice president of HPC and OpenPOWER Operations at IBM (NYSE: IBM). Three servers were announced, aimed at cloud computing, data analytics, and HPC.

“This is important because this is our re-entry into the HPC market. This is our first OpenPOWER HPC server; it’s a very big shift for IBM when in the past we were selling these highly optimized systems, the Blue Gene system. We’ve committed to the model of standard servers with CPUs and accelerators,” said Gupta.

Gupta reinforced IBM intentions to push forcefully into big data, commercial cloud, and HPC markets, which he says are IBM’s prime targets. “This is a brand new product not just the next generation of an existing product lineup and it’s optimized for cloud, big data and HPC workloads. There are three configurations [see below]. A single socket server with lots of memory and lots of hard disks designed for big data; a second server designed for enterprise workloads, things like PostgreSQL, and the third for HPC. We are going after the entire x86 server market,” said Gupta.

IBM reports the new Power Systems LC servers were designed based on technologies and development efforts contributed by OpenPOWER Foundation partners – including Canonical, Mellanox (NASDAQ: MLNX), NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA), Tyan and Wistron.

Further, Big Blue says the LC servers bring the higher performance of POWER CPUs to the broad Linux community, in particular to data analytics, cloud, and high performance computing (HPC) workloads. For example, based on IBM internal testing, a new Power Systems LC server can complete an average of select Apache Spark workloads – including analyzing Twitter feeds, streaming web page views and other data-intensive analytics – for less than half the cost of an Intel E5-2699 V3 processor-based server, providing clients with 2.3X better performance per dollar spent. Additionally, the efficient design of a Power Systems LC server allows for 94% more Spark social media workloads in the same rack space as a comparable Intel-based server. These are of course based on internal tests. (1) (2)

Generally available later this year, the Power Systems LC line of servers is being launched in three different configurations:

  • The S812LC is a 1-socket 2U system, equipped with up to 10 cores, 1TB of memory, 115GB/sec memory bandwidth, and up to 14 disk drives. The S812LC is a Linux system optimized for workloads that are memory and storage rich, such as Spark and Hadoop to provide immediate insights with incredible efficiency.
  • The 2-socket 2U Power Systems S822LC for commercial computing and high performance computing come similarly configured with up to 20 cores, 1TB of memory and 230GB/sec memory bandwidth.
  • The S822LC for high performance computing also comes with two integrated NVIDIA® Tesla® K80 GPU accelerators, the flagship offering of the NVIDIA Tesla Accelerated Computing Platform.

IBM claims the two S822LC variants will offer over 2X performance per core, 40% better price performance and more than 2X memory bandwidth (with fully configured memory) compared to similarly configured x86-based E5-2699 V3 machines. (3)

OpenPower power8_logoAs IBM ratchets up the pace of its march into the x86 dominated server world, the big question is how much traction can OpenPOWER systems gain and when will OpenPOWER systems from other vendors start to appear.

Analyst Al Gillen, IDC’s Program VP, Servers and System Software, said, “This is the billion dollar question. But the market conditions have never been better in recent history for an alternative architecture to have a viable opportunity to seize some market share. The key here is not for IBM to penetrate the x86 world but rather it is an opportunity for brand new applications, which have not yet been built and committed to an architecture, to land on Power8 Linux systems.”

An important element, said Gillen, was enticing next generation applications, applications being built on modern app frameworks, in containers, and intended for relatively OS-agnostic deployment. These application layers are making it possible for non-x86 architectures to have a viable opportunity to support new applications.

“The key will be to support the frameworks and application environments, have the appropriate partners and ecosystem products (middleware, database, container, orchestration tools, etc.) to make the Power8 platform offer a complete ecosystem so the application can run there. In other words, Power8 based Linux machines have to offer the same runtime environment that x86 servers can offer. Given that, the question comes down to performance, price performance, and TCO. If Power8 can better x86 on those metrics, it stands a real chance of gaining share,” Gillen said.

Sumit Gupta, IBM
Sumit Gupta, IBM

Gupta declined to comment on additions to the new line beyond saying IBM had shared with CORAL project participants and DOE the product roadmap. “They know about the next one and so on. Already there are 100s of HPC applications that have been ported to the power platform and optimized on the power and we are now at roughly 1900 applications total on Linux available on Power,” said Gupta

Commenting on IBM’s recent emphasis on cognitive computing, Gupta said “Fundamentally if you look at cognitive it is all about data, structured unstructured data , and deriving insight and informing action. This is precisely what power systems are built for.”

Also noteworthy is IBM Linux support. In the past, IBM gave Linux lip service on Power, said Gillen adding, “This time IBM really has put Linux front and center of its strategy in Power8. IBM is running out of chances to make Linux on Power relevant, and IBM appears to have done everything right this time around. The question is can IBM gain share with the customer segments it needs to – particularly with service providers and cloud solution providers.”

Gillen expects Chinese-built Power8 servers to be among the non-IBM servers to emerge. Closer to home, a recent blog by Aaron Sullivan, senior director and distinguished engineer, Rackspace offers ringing endorsement of OpenPOWER and discusses work on Rackspace’s planned ‘Barreleye’ OpenPOWER-based servers which will run OpenStack.

OpenPOWER now has more than 150 members worldwide. IBM contends the open model allows for rapid innovation not currently available using alternative, closed innovation methods. But encroaching into the dominant x86 world is an enormous challenge.

(1) Results are based on IBM internal testing of the average of 10 SparkBench benchmarks consisting of SQL RDD Relation, Twitter, Pageview Streaming, PageRank, Logistic Regression, SVD++, TriangleCount, SVM, MF, SQL Hive; IBM Power System S812LC 10 cores / 80 threads, POWER8, 2.9GHz, 256 GB memory, Ubuntu 15.04, Spark 1.4, OpenJDK 1.8; Intel Xeon; 24 cores / 48 threads, E5-2690 v3; 2.3GHz , 256 GB memory. Ubuntu 15.04, Spark 1.4, OpenJDK 1.8; Pricing is based on HW list prices of Intel-based server and estimated prices of IBM Power S812LC and both include the OS

(2) Power System S812LC and Intel server are 2U servers.

(3) Results are based on IBM internal testing of single system running multiple virtual machines with pgbench select only work load and are current as of October 5, 2015. Performance figures are based on running a 300 scale factor. Individual results will vary depending on individual workloads, configurations and conditions; IBM Power System S822LC; 16 cores / 128 threads, POWER8; 3.6GHz, 256 GB memory, PostgreSQL 9.5 Alpha2, RHEL 7.1, PowerKVM; Competitive stack: 36 cores / 72 threads; Intel E5-2699 v3; 2.3 GHz; 256 GB memory, PostgreSQL 9.5 Aplha2, RHEL 7.1, RHEV

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