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A Quick Look at IBM POWER9

With the release of POWER8 microprocessors, IBM fired a shot across the bow.

Intel’s x86 chips held a dominant position in data centers, but IBM was ready and willing to charge. 

In the years that followed POWER8’s release, IBM’s stock began to rise not only in microprocessors, but also with their Power Systems.

Processing power is immensely important

With a commitment to Linux and open environments – in addition to enabling third parties to license their Power architecture to create their own Power-based systems – IBM began to gain ground.  

Perhaps the biggest achievement of POWER8 microprocessors was that they finally gave enterprise and service providers an alternative to Intel x86 chips, opening up the market to new innovations.

POWER9 is set to walk through this open door, and early news of the benefits of these microprocessors has the industry talking. 

Here are 6 reasons to get excited about IBM POWER9 microprocessors

New Benchmarks in Processing Power in IBM POWER9

POWER8 is already considered a fast chip. But with POWER9, IBM is moving into entirely new territory.

Whereas POWER8 featured 4.2 billion transistors, POWER9 boast 8 billion.

In addition, the core total moves from 12 in POWER8 chips to up to 24 for POWER9. 

POWER9 chip architecture is built for technical/HPC workloads, hyperscale, analytics, cognitive, and predictive machine learning applications.

It is the first processor with PCI-Express 4.0. It has the bandwidth of up to 16 gigatransfers per second, twice that of PCI-Express 3. 

In addition, POWER9 chips are expected to upgrade the performance of POWER8 chips by 2x per socket, which can lead to huge savings in power, both above POWER8 and current Intel hardware. 

Customization with IBM POWER9 

Keeping in line with the open nature of IBM Power Servers, IBM will license POWER9 architecture to companies that want to build their own custom chips.

This is a growing request with enterprise companies that run a lot of servers or cloud data centers. 

Smaller changes may include tweaking clock-speed and power consumption.

However, for customized servers, a customized chip can add specific, proprietary functionality. 

With the open architecture of POWER9 chips and IBM Power Systems, most server makers are simply taking POWER9 chips and adding them to their servers.

With customization, though, non-IBM POWER9 chips may appear in the future. 

4 Versions to Choose From with IBM POWER9

IBM will be delivering 4 different variants of the POWER9 chips for different server configurations.

There will be 2 offerings for POWER9 SO (scale out) variants, which are designed for servers with one or two sockets, and two offerings for POWER9 SU (scale up) for machines with four or more sockets. 

What IBM is offering are options for 12 SMT8 cores or 24 SMT4 cores for both POWER9 SO and SU.

The other differences between the variants are whether the systems have directly attached memory or use Centaur memory buffer chips, as well as the level of simultaneous multithreading available. 

IBM POWER9 memory space 

POWER9 SO chips will support up to 4 TB of main memory by utilizing 256 GB memory sticks.

POWER9 SU will have up to 8 TB of main memory available across the 32 memory slots each socket supports. 

POWER 9 chips also come with a 96 MB (SO) or 120 MB (SU) shared L3 cache, which is built upon eDRAM technology.

The cache supports speeds of up to 256 GB per second, greatly lessening memory bottlenecks for data-intensive applications. 

In tests, IBM has reported that POWER9 microprocessors were about 2.2x faster for graph analytics workloads and about 1.9x faster for business intelligence workloads on a per socket basis over POWER8, an impressive performance bump from one POWER generation to the next. 

IBM POWER9 and the cloud 

Power9 makes the cloud even betterCloud computing is a key workload of POWER9 microprocessors. Scale-out (SO) versions will support intensive cloud computing from hyperscale cloud providers, such as Rackspace and Google.

Scale-up (SU) versions will be used primarily to support enterprise on-premises computing, including traditional transactional database workloads running on POWER-based Linux and Unix servers. 

For hyperscale cloud computing, POWER9 SO chips will offer higher I/O rates and the acceleration of on-chip data transfers, which are both extremely important elements for cloud workloads.

On-chip cryptography accelerators are also featured for improved security. 

As POWER9 microprocessors are no longer limited to IBM’s footprint, they will make their way into other data center solutions, powering cloud computing, analytics, and innovation throughout the open source environments.

This stage has already been set by our next reason for POWER9 implementation: the OpenPOWER Foundation. 

The OpenPOWER Foundation 

Founded in 2013 by IBM, the OpenPOWER Foundation is an open technical membership organization with the mission to create an open ecosystem.

The leaders of the tech world are sharing expertise and server-class intellectual property. 

So far, the foundation has over 200 members, including such heavy hitters as Google, Nvidia, Ubuntu, Samsung, Mellanox, and Micron. 

The foundation is based on utilizing the open hardware designs of IBM Power Systems and POWER processors to foster innovation and growth.

In fact, Google is set to start rolling out its various applications on the back of Power. 

The commitment of Google and all the other members to utilize Power architecture helps put IBM and POWER9 microprocessors in the position for significant market gains. 

The Future of IBM POWER9

IBM isn’t resting on the release of POWER9 in 2017. They have extended their POWER microprocessor forecast beyond 2020, with POWER10 already in the works. 

Combined with the OpenPOWER Foundation, they are setting the stage for continual growth in the data center market, an increase in enterprise companies basing their architecture off Power Systems, the rise of Watson cognitive capabilities, and fueling the next wave of cloud computing innovations. 

POWER9 microprocessors are a key component and the next step forward in IBM realizing its goals. 

Written by IBM BP Network