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A Survey of IBM Power Systems Initiatives in Large-Scale Computing

Oct. 23, 2015
Iain Campbell


The amount of data being produced does not seem to show any sign of slowing; if anything, it may in fact be exceeding projected growth rates. As these absolute limitations on raw hardware capacity begin to be felt, the importance of looking at all of the aspects of a computing infrastructure in order to tackle the future's truly large-scale computing demands, is imperative. This white paper examines how IBM's initiatives like Linux, Cloud Manager with OpenStack and the OpenPower Foundation IBM are meeting this challenge.


In a paper published fifty years ago, Gordon Moore proposed his now-famous theory that the number of components per integrated circuit would double every two years. Moore's Law, as it became known, tends to be used primarily to describe the increase in computing capacity of CPUs. In tandem with the growth in CPU capacity, Moore also accurately predicted the exponential growth in volumes of data manipulated by progressively faster CPUs, as well as the ability to perform increasingly more complex operations on these volumes of data.

In 2013 Google reported that the number of unique webpages in its search index stood at 30 trillion unique pages; the size of the index data itself weighed in at 1,000 terabytes. Yet, searching that index for "Moore's Law" will reliably return a result in well under a second. Manipulating data on such a scale and at such speed until recently has been restricted to a few very large players like Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft, using custom crafted and closely guarded proprietary solutions.

In recent years there has also been a great deal of work done by the open source sector on large-scale computing projects. Perhaps the best example of this is the Hadoop project. Originating as the Nutch project at the University of Washington in 2002, Hadoop is now the primary implementation of the Map/Reduce methodology used to break down large problems into discrete chunks, each of which can be solved in parallel in a compute cluster. This produces linear scalability of computing capacity and hence the problem with cluster size.

Today, state-of-the art has come to a point where IBM is integrating its developmentally mature Power computing architecture with a variety of IBM proprietary and open source projects to bring to the market off-the-shelf solutions allowing for broader adoption of large-scale computing capabilities for all customers.

In this paper we will examine four such initiatives: the use of Linux on Power, the IBM Data Engine for Analytics, IBM Cloud Manager with OpenStack, and the OpenPower Foundation.

Linux on Power

As an operating system, Linux is most often associated with x86 hardware. This was certainly true when Linux was in its early growth years in the academic and hobbyist market. Linux was a good, free operating system that ran on inexpensive commodity x86 hardware. In the commercial marketplace, however, IBM has always been a strong supporter of Linux as an alternative operating system to closed source systems. In 1999 then IBM Vice President Sam Palmisano commissioned a study of Linux that resulted in CEO Lou Gerstner announcing that in IBM's eyes Linux would become "strategic to its software and server strategy." That announcement was followed up by the establishment that year of the IBM Linux Technology Center. The following year IBM publicly pledged to invest $1billion in Linux and the open source movement. Within the next two years IBM was running Linux on its core zSeries mainframe hardware, in 2007 IBM was a founding member of the Linux Foundation, and in 2011 IBM's cognitive computing engine, Watson, famously won "Jeopardy." Watson ran on Linux and was physically implemented on Power architecture.

By this point Linux had become a significant development platform for large-scale and cloud computing projects. Recognizing this, in 2012 IBM announced that in the Power7 product line they would start shipping Linux-only models, released at a price point competitive with enterprise x86 hardware, and designed to support Linux KVM virtualization out of the box. In 2013 IBM announced a second $1billion investment, this one directed specifically at promoting Linux on the Power platform. The fourth Linux Technology Center also opened that year in Montpellier, France, adding to existing Linux centers in Beijing, New York City, and Austin, Texas.

Perhaps the most important Linux announcement in 2013, however, was the launch of the OpenPower Foundation, making key features of the Power processor architecture available under license to third-party hardware developers.

Keep in mind, too, that with the 2014 sale of its xSeries product line to Lenovo, x86 is now the competition for IBM, hence it is imperative for IBM that Power servers are given the support they need to compete with their x86-based competitors.

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