IBM Debuts Power8 Chip with NVLink and Three New Systems

By John Russell

September 8, 2016

Not long after revealing more details about its next-gen Power9 chip due in 2017, IBM today rolled out three new Power8-based Linux servers and a new version of its Power8 chip featuring Nvidia’s NVLink interconnect. One of the servers – Power S822LC for High Performance Computing (codenamed “Minsky”) – uses the new chip (Power8 with NVLink) to communicate with P100 Pascal GPUs, NVIDIA’s most recent and highest performing GPU.

The other servers – the Power S821LC and the Power S822LC for Big Data – also leverage GPU acceleration technology (K80 or P100) via PCIe interface and have IBM’s Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI) for use with Flash storage and FPGAs. All three servers are standard two-socket additions to IBM’s Linux line.

These introductions, said Sumit Gupta, vice president, High Performance Computing and Analytics, IBM, should be seen as proof of IBM’s ongoing commitment to its vision of accelerated computing as the new paradigm, and of cognitive computing (writ large) and big data analytics as the major drivers (See HPCwire article, Think Fast: IBM Talks Acceleration in HPC and the Enterprise).

Also noteworthy is that the new systems are manufactured by partners. “All three of these OpenPOWER systems leverage the strengths and expertise of OpenPOWER partners, from acceleration capabilities to strengths in design and manufacturing. In the spirit of open we hope that our Industry partners who are manufacturing these systems, Wistron, an OpenPOWER partner, and Supermicro, will deliver Power-based servers to their clients through their routes to market in order to proliferate the OpenPOWER ecosystem,” said Gupta.

IBM.LC Server

IBM says the S822LC server with NVLink embedded at the silicon level “enables data to flow 5x faster” than on a comparable x86-based system. It also substantially reduces the programming barrier to aggressive use of GPUs according to Gupta who has written a more detailed blog on the introductions. This is the first Power8-based system delivered with NVLink according to IBM.

“Moving data from the CPU to the GPU [has been the] bottleneck because with most systems most of it is going through this thin pipe, PCIe. With NVLink the GPU has access to up to half a terabyte of memory that sits on the CPU side of that interconnect,” Gupta told HPCWire. NVLink allows improved transfer of data between both processors which fundamentally makes it easier to program.

“When an application starts, all the data is sitting in the system memory, and you’ve got to move chunks of it over to the GPU,” Gupta continued. “NVLink does three things. It improves the performance because we’ve enabled a fatter pipe between the processors. It enables you to move smaller functions. And it makes programming accelerators easier because you have to do less data management.”


The new Power8 with NVLink processor features 10 cores running up to 3.26 GHz. POWER8 processors in this server have higher memory bandwidth than x86 CPUs, at 115 GB/s and can have as much as ½ a terabyte of system memory per socket.   There are larger caches per core inside the POWER8 processor, and this coupled with the faster cores and memory bandwidth leads to higher application performance and throughput.

The new NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPU accelerator increases floating point performance, delivering 21 teraflops of half-precision, 10.6 teraflops of single-precision, and 5.3 teraflops of double-precision performance. The accelerator includes 16 gigabytes of the HBM2 stacked memory with an on-GPU memory bandwidth of 720 gigabytes per sec (GB/s). The NVIDIA Tesla P100 with NVLink GPU in the SXM2 form factor delivers 14 percent more raw compute performance than the PCIe variant.

Using NVLink, writes Gupta in his blog, provides three major advantages to application acceleration:

  1. Performance: The new Power8 with NVLink processor and the new Tesla P100 GPU have four NVLink interfaces that enable “5x faster communication than a PCIe x16 Gen3 connection used in other systems.” This enables faster data exchange and application performance, by overcoming the limitation of narrow PCIe data pipe into the GPU.
  2. Programmability: The CUDA 8 software and the Page Migration Engine in Tesla P100 enable a unified memory space with automated data management between the system memory connected to the CPU and the GPU memory. Coupled with NVLink, unified memory makes programming GPU accelerators much easier for developers. Applications can be easily accelerated with GPUs by incrementally moving functions from the CPU to the GPU, without having to deal with data management.
  3. More application acceleration: Since NVLink reduces the communication time between the CPU and GPU, it enables smaller pieces of work to be moved to the GPU for acceleration. This means that more parts of an application can be GPU accelerated.

In making the announcements, IBM continued ratcheting up its ‘we’re-better-than-Intel’ rhetoric. Its broad application targets encompass all things big data and analytics, as well as deep learning and cognitive computing.

“The big advantage we are seeing for Power8 in the market has been around data analytics, databases, and high performance computing for machine learning and deep learning, and artificial intelligence,” said Gupta. “Because we have faster cores, we see much better performance, [for example], on databases compared to Intel-based systems. Applications like kinetica, which is an accelerated (GPU optimized) database for deep learning and machine learning, gets the value of NVLink high speed data connection between CPU and GPU.”

Recognizing the uphill battle in winning x86 market share, IBM in the past has emphasized efforts to penetrate hyperscalers as pivotal to its success (see HPCwire article, Handicapping IBM/OpenPOWER’s Odds for Success).

According to the IBM release: “Early testing with one of the world’s largest Internet service providers (Tencent) based in China has shown that a large cluster of the new Power S822LC for Big Data servers was able to run a data-intensive workload three times faster than its former x86-based infrastructure.  Moreover, this result was achieved while reducing the total number of servers used by two-thirds. Given the significant cost benefits of using fewer servers to deliver faster performance, the company is now integrating the new LC servers into its hyperscale data center for big data workloads.”

Sumit Gupta, IBM
Sumit Gupta, IBM

Gupta maintains there’s a big appetite for new Power8-based servers despite the advancing Power9. “Several businesses, research organizations and government bodies have pre-tested early systems and placed their orders. Among those first in line to receive shipments are a large multinational retail corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL),” according to the IBM release.

ORNL will use the new systems as a development platform for optimizing applications to take advantage of the built-in NVLink interface technology. The systems will serve as an early-generation test bed for developing demanding applications for Summit, ORNL’s next generation supercomputer that IBM will deliver in 2017 and which will use the Power9 chip. Arthur S. (Buddy) Bland, OLCF project director, is quoted in the press release saying, “As a long-time user of GPUs, we believe that this will improve the performance of our applications and make it easier for the users to deliver great science.”

Building an ecosystem is hard. For IBM and OpenPOWER, many of the diverse pieces needed are seemingly falling into place. Time will tell.

Link to Gupta’s blog:

Image source: IBM

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Mellanox Reacts to Activist Investor Pressures in Letter to Shareholders

March 16, 2018

Activist investor Starboard Value has been exerting pressure on Mellanox Technologies to increase its returns. In response, the high-performance networking company on Monday, March 12, published a letter to shareholders outlining its proposal for a May 2018 extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of shareholders and highlighting its long-term growth strategy and focus on operating margin improvement. Read more…

By Staff

Quantum Computing vs. Our ‘Caveman Newtonian Brain’: Why Quantum Is So Hard

March 15, 2018

Quantum is coming. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough. Within 10 to 12 years, we’re told, special-purpose quantum systems will enter the commercial realm. Assuming this happens, we can also assume that quantum will, over extended time, become increasingly general purpose as it delivers mind-blowing power. Read more…

By Doug Black

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise IT in its willingness to outsource computational power. The m Read more…

By Chris Downing

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Achieve Optimal Performance at Scale with High Performance Fabrics for HPC

High Performance Computing (HPC) is unlocking a new era of speed and productivity to fuel business transformation. Rapid advancements in HPC capabilities are helping organizations operate faster and more effectively than ever, but in today’s fast-paced marketplace, a new generation of technologies is required to reach greater scalability and cost-efficiency. Read more…

Stephen Hawking, Legendary Scientist, Dies at 76

March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of resea Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Stephen Hawking, Legendary Scientist, Dies at 76

March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theo Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hyperion Tackles Elusive Quantum Computing Landscape

March 13, 2018

Quantum computing - exciting and off-putting all at once - is a kaleidoscope of technology and market questions whose shapes and positions are far from settled. Read more…

By John Russell

Part Two: Navigating Life Sciences Choppy HPC Waters in 2018

March 8, 2018

2017 was not necessarily the best year to build a large HPC system for life sciences say Ari Berman, VP and GM of consulting services, and Aaron Gardner, direct Read more…

By John Russell

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SciNet Launches Niagara, Canada’s Fastest Supercomputer

March 5, 2018

SciNet and the University of Toronto today unveiled "Niagara," Canada's most-powerful supercomputer, comprising 1,500 dense Lenovo ThinkSystem SD530 high-perfor Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

Alibaba Cloud Launches ‘Bare Metal,’ HPC Instances in Europe

February 28, 2018

Alibaba, the e-commerce giant from China, is taking a run at AWS in the global public cloud computing market with new offerings aimed at the surging demand for Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Wins Another: Baidu to Deploy EPYC on Single Socket Servers

December 13, 2017

When AMD introduced its EPYC chip line in June, the company said a portion of the line was specifically designed to re-invigorate a single socket segment in wha Read more…

By John Russell

World Record: Quantum Computer with 46 Qubits Simulated

December 18, 2017

Scientists from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre have set a new world record. Together with researchers from Wuhan University and the University of Groningen, Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This