Archive for the 'p7' Category

IBM update on Power 7

For those interested, IBM has apparently revealed some details on the upcoming Power 7 processors. Gordon Haff an analyst has written two blog entries on aspects of the disclosure meeting. The first on the size, capacity, performance and the second, on the design, threading and cache etc. Nice to see Gordon picked up on x86 Transitive, no word on any new developments though.

I suspect that given the state of the industry now, the Power Systems folks are feeling pretty pleased with the decisions we made on the threading design and processor threading requirements almost over two years ago, no point in chasing rocks if you have virtualization. Best not rest on your laurels though guys. You’ve got some really significant software pricing issues to deal with, and it will be interesting to see if you took my advice on an intentional architecture for the Power server platform management.

In a interesting, karmic sort of way, I’m doing an “Avoiding Accidental Architecture” pitch here at Dell this afternoon, I’ll be using the current Power 6 state of affairs as a good, or rather bad example. Thanks as always to Tom Maguire of EMC, and Grady Booch at IBM for the architecture meme.

Whither IBM, Sun and Sparc?

So the twitterati and blog space is alight with discussion that IBM is to buy Sun for $6.25 billion. The only way we’ll know if there is any truth to it is if it goes ahead, these rumors are never denied.

Everyone is of course focussed on the big questions which mostly are around hardware synergies(server, chips, storage) and Java. Since I don’t work at IBM I have no idea whats going on or if there is any truth to this. There some more interesting technical discussions to be had than those generally think they have an informed opinion.

IBM bought Transitive in 2008; Transitive has some innovative emulation software, called QuickTransit. It allows binaries created and compiled on one platform, to be run on another hardware platform without change or recompilation. There were some deficiencies, and you can read more into this in my terse summary blog post at the time of the acquisition announcement. Prior to acquisition QuickTransit supported a number of platforms including SPARC and PowerMac and had been licensed by a number of companies, including IBM.

I assume IBM is in the midst of their classic “blue rinse” process and this explains the almost complete elimination of the Transitive web site(1), and it’s nothing more sinister than they are getting ready to re-launch under the IBM branding umbrella of POwerVM or some such.

Now, one could speculate that by acquiring SUN, IBM would achieve three things that would enhance their PowerVM stratgey and build on their Transitive acquisition. First, they could reduce the platforms supported by QuickTransit and over time, not renegotiate their licensing agreements with 3rd parties. This would give IBM “leverage” in offering binary emulation for the architectures previsouly supported, on say, only the Power and Mainframe processor ranges.

Also, by further enhancing QuickTransit, and driving it into the IBM microcode/firmware layer, thus making it more reliable, providing higher performance by reducing duplicate instruction handling, they could effectively eliminate future SPARC based hardware utilising the UNIX based Power hardware, PowerVM virtualization. This would also have the effect taking this level of emulation mainstream and negating much of the transient(pun intended) nature typically associated with this sort of technology.

Finally, by acquiring SUN, IBM would eliminate any IP barriers that might occur due to the nature of the implementation of the SPARC instruction set.

That’s not to say that there are not any problems to overcome. First, as it currently stands the emulation tends to map calls from one OS into another, rather than operating at a pure architecture level. Pushing some of the emulation down into the firmware/microcode layer wouldn’t help emulation of CALL SOLARIS API with X, Y, even if it would emulate the machine architecture instructions that execute to do this. So, is IBM really committed to becoming a first class SOLARIS provider? I don’t see any proof of this since the earlier announcement. Solaris on Power is pretty non-existentThe alternative is that IBM is to use Transitive technology to map these calls into AIX, which is much more likely.

In economic downturns, big, cash rich companies are kings. Looking back over the last 150 years there are plenty of examples of big buying competitors and emerging from the downturn even more powerful. Ultimately I believe that the proprietary chip business is dead, it’s just a question of how long it takes for it to die and if regulators feel that by allowing mergers and acquisitions in this space is good or bad for the economy and the economic recovery.

So, there’s a thought. As I said, I don’t work at IBM.

(1) It is mildly ammusing to see that one of the few pages left extoles the virtues of the Transitive technology by one Mendel Rosenblum, formerly Chief Scientist and co-founder of VMWare.

Summers over, time for a t-shirt!

My Power 7 and VM/ESA t-shirts

My Power 7 and VM/ESA t-shirts

Over on the mainframe blog, James Governor is talking about start-ups and t-shirt driven development in his latest Redmonk TV. We’ve done the subversive t-shirt thing for years at IBM, both in conjunction with and separately from the SHARE User Group.

When I moved from the UK to the USA, I cleaned out my huge stockpile of t-shirts, both triathlon, running and tech t-shirts and tennis shirts. I kept a few, including the one in the bag on the picture. In the old days getting t-shirts printed couldn’t be done at home and was expensive, so it was common place to keep things obscure, that kept the cost down and the security people away.

The white t-shirt has the IBM 8-bar logo on the left chest, and the numbers 5654-030. Wikipedia currently says that VM/ESA dates from 1988, while that might be true in an intellectual perspective since much of the control program(hypervisor code) came from VM/XA, available in 1988, VM/ESA wasn’t announced until 1990 and the first release 1.0 available in December that year. We wore these VM/ESA t-shirts at that years SHARE meetings, especially at SCIDS.

The other t-shirt in the picture? Well its similarly forward looking, designed and distributed by Richard Talbot around the time Richard and the team got the follow-on processor to P6 through concept. I have a few other t-shirts, maybe we should start a flickr group and post pictures 😉

Appliances, Stacks and software virtual machines

A couple of things from the “Monkmaster” this morning peaked my interest and deserved a post rather than a comment. First up was James post on “your Sons IBM“. James discusses a recent theme of his around stackless stacks, and simplicity. Next-up came a tweet link on cohesiveFT and their elastic server on demand.

These are very timely, I’ve been working on a effort here in Power Systems for the past couple of months with my ATSM, Meghna Paruthi, on our appliance strategy. These are, as always with me, one layer lower than the stuff James blogs on, I deal with plumbing. It’s a theme and topic I’ll return to a few times in the coming weeks as I’m just about to wrap up the effort. We are currently looking for some Independent Software Vendors( ISVs) who already package their offerings in VMWare or Microsoft virtual appliance formats and either would like to do something similar for Power Systems, or alternatively have tried it and don’t think it would work for Power Systems.

Simple, easy to use software appliances which can be quickly and easily deployed into PowerVM Logical Partitions have a lot of promise. I’d like to have a market place of stackless, semi-or-total black box systems that can be deployed easily and quickly into a partition and use existing capacity or dynamic capacity upgrade on demand to get the equivalent of cloud computing within a Power System. Given we can already run circa 200-logical partitions on a single machine, and are planing something in the region of 4x that for the p7 based servers with PowerVM, we need to do something about the infrastructure for creating, packaging, servicing, updating and managing them.

We’ve currently got six-sorta-appliance projects in flight, one related to future datacenters, one with WebSphere XD, one with DB2, a couple around security and some ideas on entry level soft appliances.

So far it looks like OVF wrappers around the Network Installation Manager aka NIM, look like the way to go for AIX based appliances, with similar processes for i5/OS and Linux on Power appliances. However, there are a number of related issues about packaging, licensing and inter and intra appliance communication that I’m looking for some input on. So, if you are an ISV, or a startup, or even in independent contractor who is looking at how to package software for Power Systems, please feel free to post here, or email, I’d love to engage.

Now that’s virtualization…

Simulation is a big deal these days, not only can you get well ahead of actual chip availability by simulating architecture, but you can also run where otherwise you couldn’t normally.

Last week IBM Global Engineering Services (GES) inked a deal with Virtutech to use their Simics™ product to create advanced, system-level simulation models for IBM’s next-generation embedded processor cores, beginning with the PowerPC 464FP core.

More details here in the Virtutech press release.

Managing your career

No, not the verb, the noun.

One of my early posts in this blog was “A. Seven – Q. Ways to measure progress ?”, a response to an entry on Brian Peacocks internal blog. Thursday last week I had the pleasure of doing the pitch behind the post, to the world-wide IBM Assistant Technical Staff Member(ATSM) community. Although “corny“, one of the phrases that is a staple in the presentation is “Make sure change is something that happens for you, not to you”.

It stuck in my mind. When I got off a flight from the UK on Tuesday night, actually early Wednesday morning, I decided that I needed to live up to that mantra.

And so it was after some frantic last minute activities yesterday, I’m pleased to announce that today I signed form to become a full IBM US employee as of today. Nothing much else changes, I’m still leading the marketing requirements, scenarios and related work on Systems Management. I’m pulling together a number of important threads for the p7 based server, and I lead/own the Power Systems Appliance strategy work. But as of today I do that as a full IBM Corporation employee and will be resigning from IBM United Kingdom, and at least for the foreseable future, no more assignments. Colour me really excited.

Make sure change is something that happens for YOU, not to you.

[Update: I’ve uploaded the slides after a couple of requests, you can view them online or download from slideshare.net here. ]

Power on Mars

Just like London buses, I don’t post for a while, then two came along together. Actually, I’ll follow this one up with some other interesting news for next week.

Anyway, a lot of the new on National Public Radio (NPR) today has been about NASAs next landing on Mars, instead of being another “bouncing ball” based landing, this time the Phoenix Mars Lander will be a more traditional rocket assisted landing, easy down gently. One thing NPR didn’t cover was that the Power Architecture will be at the heart of the mission and the lander. The major news organisations are just picking this up from an IBM press release, see Yahoo coverage here.

As Bowie sang “Wonder if he’ll ever know, He’s in the best selling show, Is there life on Mars?”

Whither the Hardware Management Console

So, most larger IBM server users have a Hardware Management Console. The word console makes these boxes seem like they just provide a GUI into the inner workings of the IBM Servers, but actually they provide a huge amount of additional function and the systems wouldn’t be usable without them. More correctly they should have probably been called the IBM Server server.

As I’ve alluded to in a couple of prior posts, and on Twitter, I’ve been heavily involved in looking again at the role of Platform Management, that is the configuration, deployment, operation, monitoring of one or more System p homogeneous servers running in Blade or rack mounted systems. Yes, I understand that most organisations have other servers and want to manage them as well, and the work we are doing will definitely allow the System p Platform Management to be extended and driven by external Systems Management tools such as the IBM Systems Director, Tivoli Systems Management, BMC, Computer Associates etc. This will be through both existing and emerging industry standards(see blog).

However, what I’m focussed on short term is the role of the various tools within System p and AIX, but also to support Linux on Power and i5/OS, PAVE Linxu x/86 binaries etc.

As part of that it seems like re-missioning the HMC might be a good idea. On some of our Systems we have a feature called the Integrated Virtualization Manager(IVM) which provides some of the function of the HMC but without the requirement to run an external “console” aka the server server as it runs in a logical partition on the server itself.

I’m interested in any observation and comment on these two things. Would you want to see more function in an re-missioned HMC or does the function belong internally to the system, say running in a logical partition like the IVM? What do you see as the pro’s and con’s of each?

Over the past 6-months I’ve had a lot of feedback on both of these, I’ll incorporate any comments with those and hopefully towards the end of July be able to publish at least an outline or high-level design of where our thinking is.

See you in about 500-miles of cycling and a long spa weekends time!

Security in Power5 LPARs

A recent discussion on the value of infrastructure virtualization for SOA and SOA based middleware and related security issues was one worth posting on.

It seems to be a commonly held view that we really won’t get true Internet, Web security isolation for servers until we get the next generation of Intel hardware and related software updates from Linux and Microsoft and a protected kernal or nexus.

That overlooks the fact that System p already delivers features that enable hardware isolation that can protect software running in one logical partition from a). being hacked and b). if it is hacked, being able to compromise other partitions either directly or indirectly.[1] Continue reading ‘Security in Power5 LPARs’

In search of partitioning

In his Enterprise Architecture: Virtualization and Management by Magazine blog post, James McGovern muses on mainframe virtualization leadership and if the likes of James Governor and the 451 Group will start blogging about it. He also wonders if “IBM mainframes would make a better participant in a grid architecture than Sun, Dell or HP?”

It’s not clear where the link is to management by magazine, but the blogsphere is certainly a funny old world. Partitioning and virtualization is taking off in a big way and a few short clicks this is all back in focus. Continue reading ‘In search of partitioning’

The cat is out of the bag for Power7

Well the news is out that IBM has been selected by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a machine that provides 100 times the sustained performance of today’s general purpose supercomputers and is dramatically simpler to program, administer and use.

The machine will be Power7 based to be delivered in 2010 and beyond and will include, the AIX® operating system, IBM’s General Parallel File System, IBM’s Parallel Environment, and IBM’s Interconnect and Storage Subsystems — technologies that are key to IBM’s commercial product portfolio.

The DARPA project is one of the drivers for the n+1 generation of System p servers as the solution delivered to DARPA has to be a “commercial off the shelf” (COTS) system. However there are some really exciting things that we will be doing that go above and beyond the DARPA project that will change the face of enterprise computing, especially in total cost of ownership (TCO).

You can read the formal press release on the DARPA project here.

Meanwhile, much to do before then on both system design, packaging and software exploitation much of which will come with the Power6 based servers slated for 2007.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society (bsc.org) I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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