Image Credit: IBM

IBM Power10 is All About Business

IBM has announced the IBM Power10 architecture. It’s no secret that this is the successor to IBM’s aptly named Power9 architecture, but this new chip represents so much more than just the next generation of IBM’s processor family. Along with a host of other innovative features, IBM Power10 delivers up to 20 times more performance than its predecessor (depending on workload). Beginning as a research project from the 1970s, IBM’s Power architecture has been helping companies innovate for decades. A RISC (Reduces Instruction Set Computer) based chip, IBM Power-based chips remove a lot of the unnecessary fluff that you find in x86 solutions.

Some Important IBM Power10 Talking Points:

  • Power10 is IBM’s First Commercialized 7nm Processor. Power10 will deliver around 3 times the capacity and energy efficiency of IBM Power9 all while using the same amount of power. This allows for allowing for greater performance.
  • Power10 will support Multi-Petabyte Memory Clusters. IBM Power10 features a groundbreaking memory technology called Memory Inception. This redesign of the memory architecture will drastically increase cloud capacity while providing massing gains in memory-intensive workloads. AI will see huge benefits from the enhanced memory capabilities of Power10 because, in order for AI to be trained, it must operate on extremely large lets of data.
  • Power10 has Advanced Hardware-Accelerated Security. Included in IBM Power10 is transparent memory encryption which is designed to provide end-to-end security. IBM POWER10 processors is designed to be able to encrypt data significantly faster. Power10 is able to do so because it has 4 times the number of AES encryption units per core compared to IBM POWER9. IBM Power10 even supports things like quantum-safe cryptography and fully homomorphic encryption, while also bringing new enhancements to container security.
  • Power10 is an All-New Processor Architecture. Power10 is embedded with a Matrix Math Accelerator that provides up to 20x faster AI performance for FP32 (Floating Point), BFloat16, and INT8 operations as compared to IBM POWER9.

This new IBM Power10 architecture has been 5 years in the making and has a lot to show for itself. One of which is the fact that this is IBM’s first 7-nm (nano-meter) design. Let’s not pop the theoretical cork off of the hypothetical champagne bottle just yet though. It’s important to note that even though this is a physically a 16 core chip, there will only be 15 cores available due to problems that IBM is having with their 7nm process.

That’s right: Like Intel (Team Blue), IBM (Big Blue) is unable to manufacture Power10 chips without issue, so they are just running with what they’ve got working so far and honestly, good on them for that. It turns out to not be such a bad thing considering the fact as Power10 supports SMT8 (8-way Symmetric Multi-Threading). I’m sure you’re familiar with Hyper-Threading; that’s Intel’s marketing name for SMT2. This is why a quad-core Core i7 shows up in Windows as an 8 core CPU. So, in the case of IBM Power10, you are getting 120 logical cores out of a single chip.

IBM doesn’t actually manufacture its own silicon, though. The company announced it has signed a deal with Korean electronics giant Samsung’s subsidiary Samsung Foundry to manufacture IBMs next-generation Power10 processors using Samsung’s 7 nm fabrication process. Samsung’s process uses EUVL (Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography). This isn’t all that shocking considering the fact that GlobalFoundries, which is IBM’s manufacturing partner, abandoned it’s 7 nm node and other advanced technologies. IBM’s agreement with Globalfroundies ends this in August of 2020.

Power10 offers some of the most advanced hardware memory encryption available, boasting over 40% faster cryptography compared to Power9 on account of its dedicated AES encryption cores. These hardware add-ons provide Power10 with things like homomorphic encryption techniques. Homomorphic encryption is a type of encryption that allows the software to perform calculations on secure data without having to first decrypt it. The end result is Power10’s ability to perform work on encrypted data that when decrypted, the output is the same as if the operations were performed on unencrypted data. In its bag of tricks, Power10 can also deliver hardware-enforced container protection and isolation capabilities that are optimized down to a firmware level. This prevents an intrusion into a container from being able to impact containers within the same Power10 powered virtual machine.

Image Credit: IBM

IBM’s Innovative Approach to Power10’s Memory Management

Power10 chips also feature something called DERC (Dynamic Execution Register Control). DERC allows developers to design programs that are much more resistant to malicious attacks while causing next-to-no performance loss. One of the most amazing features of Power10 is what IBM is calling ‘memory inception.’ This new memory management technique will let any Power10-based system share memory with other systems within a cluster. The real-world implications of such innovations are truly groundbreaking. This means that a system in a Power10 cluster has access to the ENTIRE MEMORY POOL of every system in that same cluster. So basically no RAM will be wasted in these setups.

IBM Power10 Will Drive Costs Down

Considering the fact that RAM is one of the highest drivers of cost within data-centers, this is a really good thing. IBM has built the Power10, in part, for AI. This new CPU will be able to deliver up to 20 times the performance of its predecessor in this regard, hens the figure in the first paragraph. But let’s talk about memory more. Another groundbreaking innovation that has been integrated into Power10 is the ability to be memory technology agnostic.

That’s right, the Power10 will ship with support for DDR4 and will later get DDR5 support without having to change the CPU. This is possible because IBM has effectively decoupled memory technology dependencies from its CPU design by forgoing the previously obligatory on-chip DDR interface in lieu of a proprietary serial link that is fully programmable. Not only does this change give Power10 much more flexible access to memory technologies, but it makes it a much more powerful processor as DDR memory interfaces consume precious die space. While we are talking about memory, the Power10 architecture officially supports a whopping 2PB of RAM. Yes. With a P. Petabytes. For reference, a Petabyte is 1024 TB (Terabytes) and a TB is 1024 GB (Gigabytes).

Yes. That much RAM. That’s right! With a Power10 system, you will finally be able to have more than 20 Chrome tabs open.

Also, In IBM swapping out the traditional high-pin-count parallel memory interface with a high-speed low pin-count serial link in Power10 dramatically simplifies motherboard design and construction.

IBM’s cognitive systems General Manager Stephen Leonard has reiterated that the Power10’s reduced power footprint will help drive data-center efficiency and drastically reduce costs while allowing for ever increasingly popular hybrid cloud setups that can achieve much more work in a smaller physical space. Things like memory inception will allow fewer servers for the same workload and will make it so that cloud users will need to lease a whole lot fewer resources to meet their IT needs.

A Little Back Story on The IBM’s Power Architecture

IBM’s last Power processor family, the IBM Power9 is manufactured on a 14-nanometer FinFET process. Like its successor, it supports SMT8, but unlike IBM’s Power10, Power9 came in 12 and 24-core versions. Power9 chips, although they can have the same or higher thread count as their replacement are not nearly as powerful or flexible as Power10. Even still, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory supercomputer named ‘Summit’ uses Power9 chips and its one of the fastest supercomputers in the world. This is, however, because Summit also features many Nvidia Tesla GPUs acting as accelerators.

Power (PPC) was the second CPU architecture used by Apple for their Desktop and Laptop computers before they switched to intel x86. Before Power PC, Apple was using the Motorola 68K platform. Now they are switching to ARM. Overall, Intel doesn’t sell a whole lot of CPUs to apple compared to its total business, but the fact that Apple is switching from intel’s platform to something totally different marks a greater shift in the desktop computer market; a shift away from intel.

Intel is in Trouble, Again, Again

One of Intel’s most important remaining markets is the server and data-center market and IBM is coming for it. More and more of Intel’s core markets are being eroded. ARM is nipping at Intel’s heels while Intel’s biggest x86 licensee, AMD, is defeating them in the desktop and laptop CPU segments. Now IBM will take dominance in what has classicly been Intel’s high-end server and data-center markets.

IBM is a Top 5 Server Company

Intel and AMD x86 processors currently dominate the server market, but IBM still has a major foothold (around 5% of the market). IBM is the Number 5 server manufacturer in the world as of the time of this writing and generated almost $900 million in revenue according to IDC figures. That $900 million dollar figure doesn’t include profits from IBM’s joint venture with Inspur, a Chinese company. The project is a joint effort to manufacture and sell IBM’s POWER systems. The Inspur partnership has already generated over $1.3 billion in sales during the first quarter, staking a 7.1% claim to the market.

IBM Power10 Release Date

Don’t expect IBM Power10 to come out any time soon. This new chip is slated for a Q4 2021 release. This announcement comes far ahead of the release data as part of a unique strategy by IBM. Other manufacturers, such as Intel and AMD don’t release this level of information until they are almost ready to release the product.

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