For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

By John Russell

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Now, says Ken King, general manager, OpenPOWER, for IBM Systems Group, it’s time for all that organizational and technology rubber to hit the road and be converted into volume sales. That’s a tall, but very doable order, he argues.

IBM’s broad ambition, of course, is to make a big dent in Intel’s ironclad grasp of the x86 server landscape. “This year is about scale. We’re [IBM/OpenPOWER] only going to be effective if we get to 10-15-20 percent of the Linux socket market. Being at one or two percent won’t [do it],” says King. In a wide-ranging conversation with HPCwire, King and Brad McCredie, IBM Fellow with responsibility for technology oversight of IBM Power Systems, discussed what’s been accomplished and what remains to be done to make IBM/OpenPOWER successful. King also shares some interesting insights on China market dynamics.

IBM’s Ken King

There’s no shortage of doubters. Taking on Intel is not for the faint hearted. IBM has perhaps sounded a strident note around the Power initiative in past years. As 2017 gets rolling King’s comments seem tempered by the tremendous efforts required so far. Make no mistake, IBM remains very confident, suggests King, but also clear-eyed about the challenges and encouraged by how much has been accomplished.

Here a very brief sampling of important IBM/OpenPOWER achievements so far:

  • OpenPOWER Membership has grown to 280-plus since its incorporation in December 2013 by signature founders IBM, NVIDIA, Mellanox, Google, and Tyan. Basically all elements of the IT technology supplier landscape (accelerator chips, networking, storage, software, etc.) are represented. Says King, “We don’t even think about how many members there are anymore.” There’s enough.
  • IBM’s Brad McCredie

    Technology. The Power8 and Power8+ (NVLink) processors are out and in products. CAPI (Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface technology) for Power8 is out and work on OpenCAPI, launched in October 2016, is well underway – “It’s an entirely new open standard that has a unique physical and protocol layers. The one thing that we did was preserve the APIs the accelerator sees,” says McCredie.

  • Power-based Products. In September IBM launched three new Power8/8+ servers including Minsky – the first commercial product with NVIDIA’s Pascal P100 GPU. Around ten Power-based systems from OpenPOWER partners (including from HPC stalwart Supermicro) were announced or launched at SC16. IBM launched PowerAI bundling of Minsky optimized for deep learning and intended to make DL adoption in the enterprise easier – King says more “packaged” solutions (finance, manufacturing, etc) are in development.
  • Hyperscale Wins. Google (and Rackspace) announced in the spring plans for a Power9-based server supporting OCP. More recently Tencent – China largest Internet portal – announced plans to include Power-based systems in its mix. The market is still watching to see how quickly these announcements turn into real offerings for hyperscale customers and sales for IBM/OpenPOWER. IBM’s own cloud may be seen as a competitor though it’s unclear how much effect on wider OpenPOWER adoption it will have.
  • Developer Clouds. IBM launched SuperVessel, its Power-based cloud development platform, in Europe and China last year. At SC16 Big Blue launched collaboration with HPC cloud specialist Nimbix which has put the PowerAI platform and associated developer tools in its cloud.
  • Power8/9 Roadmap. As noted, the Power8+ chip implemented NVLink for GPU communications. Power9 is due in 2017 and is expected to support NVLink and PCIe4 and also leverage OpenCAPI. Unlike the Power8 chip launch, which was strictly an IBM affair, the Power9 debut (four initial versions) will be an OpenPOWER family affair, says King, with numerous partner contributions and implementation commitments announced together.

The stakes are clearly ratcheting up. It’s also probably worth repeating that accelerator-assisted computing, driven by innovations from diverse ecosystem partners, is the fundamental IBM/OpenPOWER vision. This contrasts, argues King, with centralized control over architectural advance as practiced by Intel. No doubt Intel sees it differently. In any case, the ‘decline’ of Moore’s Law and the rise of heterogeneous computing as the necessary route for advancing high performance (in science and the enterprise) is a core IBM/OpenPOWER value proposition.

Asked whether or not IBM is satisfied with the progress, King is surprisingly candid.

“There’s no one answer to that. There are multiple answers in my opinion. My bosses are, of course, going to say not fast enough to the monetization, right. That said, as we work with our partners – and some of them are very large partners that understand this market really well – in a couple of cases when we’ve met with them and I expressed my concern about monetization not happening fast enough, their feedback was, ‘Are you kidding? What are you expecting? You are starting from ground zero for the most part and in two years look where this has come. It takes five years to really scale from a monetization perspective’,” says King.

Five years seems an eternity in the technology, yet many analysts agree that’s probably what it takes given Intel’s dominant position and the customer challenges in making a switch.

Addison Snell, CEO, Intersect360 Research, says, “IBM has all the right pieces in place for Power, and now the challenge is that they actually have to make sales. IBM did announce some good wins in both HPC and hyperscale markets around SC16, and we’ll get our first look at how much the total volume picked up when we do our total market model over the next few months, and of course, in our annual HPC Site Census survey. Our 2016 Site Census survey didn’t pick up any significant number of new Power-based installations, but that was before Minsky was available, and IBM could see things picking up from here.”

King recognizes the challenges.

“Just to finish the thought. On the deployment side, as I said earlier, you are seeing now a lot of significant growth. This year is scaling. The challenge we are working through is the switching cost. On existing workloads you’ve got clients already ingrained in their datacenters with x86-optimized based solutions. We have to show significant cost-performance advantage to justify the switching costs associated with it. We as an ecosystem, not just IBM, that’s the hurdle we are working on clearing. We aren’t all the way there. If we were all the way there we would be at 20-30 percent market share of Linux on Power.

“Where we’re succeeding is delivering innovations that are showing the necessary level of differentiation. It can’t be 1.1X TCO. It’s got to be 1.5X or 2.0X to justify, ‘OK, I am going to move to another platform. I am going to port my applications to another platform. I am going to optimize them on that.’ That’s the hurdle we’re working on clearing,” says King.

Citing a 2016 Intersect360 special study on processor architectures, Snell says “When HPC users rated the importance of technical features on a five-point scale, the most important characteristic was memory bandwidth, followed by double-precision performance and memory latency. These are areas in which the Power architecture has an opportunity to gain. Furthermore, over half the HPC users responding indicated they would be using or evaluating Power/OpenPOWER

Intersect360 Processor Report

over the next few years. If IBM can effectively sell the benefits of Power to those evaluators, it stands a good chance to take a fair market share as a toehold in the HPC industry.”

King emphasizes a critical success element is this idea of building a complete ecosystem in which everyone benefits and the flexibility it offers. A good example, he says, is how the Tencent deal happened, starting with product design all the way to sales channel used.

“It was a system that was configured and manufactured by Supermicro at a cost point that made sense for Tencent and with that then becoming an IBM product. We then licensed or provided it as a product to reseller Inspur who then sold it to the customer because the customer’s procurement list only had Chinese companies,” says King.

“We couldn’t do that in the old model. The OpenPOWER model creates tons of flexibility for us through our partnerships. Now Inspur has decided they will develop their own OpenPOWER systems, initially for the China market, and then more globally for the broader the market as part of seeing the progress and seeing the interest from hyperscale clientele.”

China, of course, is a tricky geography to sell into at the moment, full of promise and market growth opportunities, but also closely controlled. China has worked hard to develop and expand its technology prowess generally and supercomputer capability specifically (See HPCwire article, US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy).

King declined to comment on what effects, if any, the change in U.S. administrations will trigger. President-elect Trump’s overture to Taiwan and U.S. border tax talk seem likely to stir political and trade tensions. Currently, a big control point is China’s use of ‘local, secure, indigenous, and controllable technology’ rules. “The more that tightens up the harder it is for multinationals. The more the expectation is for the multi-nationals to provide their intellectual property to China. You’ve got to find the balance,” says King.

“The positive for us is it creates a very interesting door opener for Power, and ARM as well and alternative technologies. They are testing everything. But you have to be careful. Every major player, chip providers etc, is in China and everyone In China is trying to be the partner that’s got that one alternative. If we’re partnering with one company, then somebody else is going to partner with AMD, and somebody with ARM. China will continue to be a battleground for the next few years and I don’t know when or how it will end,” says King.

IBM Power S822LC for High Performance Computing

Leaving aside extended discussion of IBM’s multi-prong deep learning strategy as the wave of the future – that was the common theme among many technology suppliers at SC16 – it seems clear attacking the Linux market means a heavy emphasis on the wider enterprise. The convergence of HPC and HPDA is providing more opportunity for accelerated analytics says King, noting that one large retailer has deployed a Power system with a GPU-accelerated database application. “They will probably allow us to talk about them next year once they have got some numbers and results,” he says.

IBM announced earlier its partnership with Kinetica which describes its platform as “a distributed, in-memory database accelerated by GPUs that can simultaneously ingest, analyze, and visualize streaming data for truly real-time actionable intelligence. Kinetica leverages the power of many core devices (such as GPUs) to deliver results orders of magnitude faster than traditional databases on a fraction of the hardware” IBM says it will work accelerated DB vendors “as we see fit”.

IBM’s PowerAI solution (Minsky) has already been optimized for a number of the machine learning/deep learning frameworks – Theano, Caffee and Torch – with more expected. But don’t mistake the obvious emphasis on penetration of the enterprise as a lack of interest or commitment to the Top500 and leadership class machines, says King.

“We are heavily invested and focused in helping move down the path to exascale. So CORAL was a first step. There are other projects I can’t talk about now,” King says adding “We wouldn’t have won that in our traditional environment. It was the open architecture. It was the data-centric computing model. It was the partnership with NIVIDIA and Mellanox. All of that enabled us to win. That continues to be a strategy that we think those kinds of agencies find very attractive.”

All netted down, the table is set for success, say King and McCredie. Power-based products, technology innovations, channels, (a few) signature customers, expanding ecosystem, and – not least – a philosophy that puts a premium on independently-driven innovation by partners are all present.

IBM’s fire to succeed is undiminished they insist, though the rhetoric seems a little less strident. What’s needed now are sales. One more year seems perhaps too ambitious to turn that tide, but enough to provide a strong indicator.

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!

Intel, Micro Debut Quad-Level Cell NAND Flash

May 22, 2018

Chipmakers continue to gear designs toward AI and other demanding cloud workloads that take advantage of datacenter flash storage capacity. To that end, memory specialist Micron Technology Inc. began shipping compact sol Read more…

By George Leopold

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combined peak computing capacity, the new systems will extend the a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Mastering the Big Data Challenge in Cognitive Healthcare

Patrick Chain, genomics researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posed a question in a recent blog: What if a nurse could swipe a patient’s saliva and run a quick genetic test to determine if the patient’s sore throat was caused by a cold virus or a bacterial infection? Read more…

ASC18: Tough Applications & Tough Luck

May 17, 2018

The applications at the ASC18 Student Cluster Competition were tough. Tougher than the $3.99 steak special at your local greasy spoon restaurant. The apps are so tough that even Chuck Norris backs away from them slowly. Read more…

By Dan Olds

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and th Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by t Read more…

By John Russell

PRACE 2017 Annual Report: Exascale Aspirations; Industry Collaboration; HPC Training

May 15, 2018

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) today released its annual report showcasing 2017 activities and providing a glimpse into thinking about Read more…

By John Russell

US Forms AI Brain Trust

May 11, 2018

Amid calls for a U.S. strategy for promoting AI development, the Trump administration is forming a senior-level panel to help coordinate government and industry research efforts. The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence was announced Thursday (May 10) during a White House summit organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Read more…

By George Leopold

Emerging Advanced Scale Tech Trends Focus of Annual Tabor Conference

May 9, 2018

At Tabor Communications' annual Advanced Scale Forum (ASF) held this week in Austin, the focus was on enterprise adoption of HPC-class technologies and high performance data analytics (HPDA). It’s a confab that brings together end users (CIOs, IT planners, department heads) and vendors and encourages... Read more…

By the Editorial Team

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

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

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Leading Solution Providers

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

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

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CFO Steps down in Executive Shuffle at Supermicro

January 31, 2018

Supermicro yesterday announced senior management shuffling including prominent departures, the completion of an audit linked to its delayed Nasdaq filings, and Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Portends ‘Sea Change’ for Oil and Gas Sector

February 1, 2018

The billowing compute and data demands that spurred the oil and gas industry to be the largest commercial users of high-performance computing are now propelling Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

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

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