IBM POWER9 combined with a sophisticated software stack gets clients to the cloud, improves security and simplifies system maintenance
By Jim Utsler
Yeah, some companies can design, develop and release chips that are faster, denser and perhaps run cooler than their predecessors—which isn’t a bad thing. Ultimately, though, it’s just an isolated chip embedded in another manufacturer’s computer framework, without any integration with an associated software stack.
IBM’s business model has for many years turned that idea on its head by creating software either engineered or enhanced to run on its new processors. And this holds true for IBM POWER9, the latest generation of the processor that boasts a heritage of faster and software-integrated chip technology.
As Steve Sibley, IBM vice president of Offering Management, Cognitive Systems Infrastructure, and George Gaylord, IBM offering manager for high-end Power Systems, explain in this Q&A, that type of hardware/software collaboration, as now represented by POWER9, can help clients easily set up and manage cloud-computing environments, bolster their operational security and ease overall system maintenance.
“The POWER9 family brings a whole new level of assistance to help clients deliver on-premises intranets, or private clouds, and keep them manageable for the amount of staff they have.”
George Gaylord // IBM offering manager for high-end Power Servers
Q: What are some of the issues organizations are facing that IBM is addressing with POWER9?
Steve Sibley (SS): Clients are primarily interested in three areas. One is their ability to improve operational efficiency and automation within their datacenters and overall computing environments. They need to be able to do things more quickly to respond to changing business requirements. This is in part why cloud is built into all of our systems and why we’re continuing to add capabilities to not only manage cloud resources within the software we provide, but also upwardly integrate into other people’s cloud managers and environments.
The second key area is that, as people are managing data, demands on systems continue to grow, so they need systems that can manage all of their information in an effective way and process it even faster than before.
The third point involves security. Realizing that more than half of all business will see some sort of breach in the next year, the new capability we deliver both in the POWER9 chip and with our security and compliance software are key ways to help customers mitigate or minimize as much as possible the threats that they may see from a security standpoint.
George Gaylord (GG): I’d like to add to that by saying the application landscape our clients are dealing with is much more complex than when POWER7 came out. If you look at a mid-size customer using database applications, mission-critical transaction processing all the way to opening up to their partners and suppliers over the internet, they have to secure against the latest threats. But they have to do that with limited resources.
Large enterprises have people they can throw at this, but mid-size customers have to be able to manage it with the people they have on staff. Some have been turning to third-party cloud providers so they can follow their standard operating procedures. The POWER9 family, however, brings a whole new level of assistance to help clients deliver on-premises intranets, or private clouds, and keep them manageable for the amount of staff they have.
The POWER9 processor. Photo courtesy of IBM
Q: How is IBM addressing these client pain points?
SS: We’ve been working on and enabling cloud for quite a while now, but we’ve begun building into each of our systems the basic requirements that you need for cloud. IBM PowerVM virtualization manager is now integrated into our systems, and IBM PowerVC cloud manager can enable simple private clouds or upwardly integrate heterogeneous clouds within that environment.
We’ve built into our management capability something we call the Cloud Management Console, which is a cloud-based Software as a Service that enables our clients to see all of their Power Systems infrastructure from a VM level all the way up to management nodes, all of it in a single snapshot across every data center so users can determine the health and performance of systems across a potentially diverse infrastructure.
One of those other key issues many clients think of is cloud consumption. IBM has had Capacity on Demand for quite some time, but just recently, we built in the ability to purchase and deploy capacity on demand straight off the web and deploy it within just minutes.
On the innovation side, the POWER9 processor performs up to 50 percent better per core than POWER8 and has twice the performance per core of x86 servers, but beyond that, we’ve also dramatically extended the memory footprint these systems can manage. We have customers, particularly those who are beginning to leverage the performance and capabilities of in-memory databases like SAP HANA, to now put very large-scale operations in memory databases in these systems. Our E950 can handle four times the data you have with the E850, and the E980 can support up to 64 TB of memory. This was once unthinkable, but that kind of capability is necessary in environments where customers want multiple SAP HANA databases running in their on-premises private clouds to be able to optimize and automate their infrastructure in the most efficient way possible.
Security is built into the POWER9 with Trusted Execution capabilities at the chip level. This validates that OSes have the proper characteristics when launched, but we’ve also integrated into PowerVM the capability for the system to encrypt when a client uses Live Partition Mobility (LPM), which affords the ability to move a live, running VM from one system to the other without any disruption to the user. We encrypt all that data to ensure security is there not only when data is both at rest, but also when it’s on the move.
Q: For IBM i clients, the POWER9 processor is about more than just performance. It also appears to be about Power software upgrades, too. Can you explain why this is and how it benefits users?
SS: One of the things that we bring somewhat uniquely to the table is a single company that addresses both the hardware and software together, which is part of why we scale so well and that our virtualization works seamlessly with the platform. So whenever we come out with a new hardware technology, such as POWER9, we also introduce new software capabilities. With PowerVM, as we discussed earlier, we encrypt the data when a live partition is being moved, but we also compress every LPM execution that comes across the network. We’ve also enhanced our PowerSC software, which ties into our PowerVC Cloud Manager software, to ensure that when a client wants to spin up a new partition within their private cloud, they can make sure it meets security and compliance criteria based on their profiles.
By bringing those types of functions together, we’re not only making sure the client gets all of the capabilities they can from the hardware when they deploy the software, but it also—going back to security—allows us to ensure, test and validate vulnerability fixes. Many of the benefits we provide address the full scope of those pain points I was mentioning earlier surrounding cloud, automation and security. It’s not simply a matter of, “Oh, I’ve given you more performance.”
Q: So when talk of POWER9 comes up, should clients think both hardware and the software stack?
GG: The combination of AIX or IBM i plus PowerVM virtualization is designed, tested and integrated with the hardware as opposed to being a collection of add-on products. The combination of those three things—hardware plus the virtualization layer plus the OS—is a unique innovation that stands on its own as a competitive product in the industry, and when you put them together, you get the proven reliability and track record that leading enterprises have leveraged to help optimize their datacenter infrastructures. When you combine all of these, systems are inherently easier to patch, install and deploy.
Q: With POWER6 having come to end of life and POWER7 support just recently ended, it sounds like POWER9 would be the next logical migration step for the users of these older systems. What should they consider when doing so?
GG: Here’s an analogy to think about in terms of POWER7 and POWER6 before that, which were wonderful systems for their time. I recently drove back from seeing my son in Chattanooga in an SUV that, when I bought it, was state of the art and has actually served me pretty well over many years. Now, though, I need to put extra resources into maintaining it, simply because it’s an older model with a lot of miles on it. I just got my wife a new car and the amount of maintenance is a lot less, and the amount of new innovations she has is light years ahead of anything I have in my car.
So even if a platform was great five or 10 years ago, what we offer in current technologies is simply better and more efficient. It’s going to be easier and less expensive to maintain a newer system over the next five years, so customers should strongly consider moving forward because they now have new options to deploy applications and OSes more efficiently on POWER9 than can staying on older systems.
Regardless of whether the industry a client is in, IBM has a lot of innovation to offer, and those companies are leveraging POWER to do innovative things. They’re not just saying, “I need a database application.” They’re enabling private on-premises cloud to deliver applications and mobile services to their user base and they’re looking for ways to do that, to give them a competitive advantage, and that’s what Power Systems is all about.