IBM Power 9 Servers Target AI

Source:Rick Merritt
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IBM announced its first Linux servers to use its Power 9 processors, targeting businesses that want to accelerate machine learning jobs. The systems are the first to use PCI Express Gen 4 as well as NVLink 2.0 to attach Nvidia GPUs and IBM’s OpenCAPI for FPGAs and other accelerators.

The company claims it will approach the prices of rival x86 systems while delivering greater bandwidth. However, it’s unclear what accelerators will be available for the new interconnects.

The NVLink 2.0 attaches up to six Nvidia GPUs to a Power 9 system delivering 5.6 times the bandwidth of the PCIe Gen 3 links used on x86 server, IBM claimed. The additional bandwidth translates to about 3.7-times speed up on machine learning jobs using frameworks such as Chainer or Caffe, it said.

IBM provides optimized versions of AI frameworks that can distribute compute-intensive training jobs across hundreds of GPUs with 95 percent scaling, it added.

The company expects partners will provide FPGAs and NAND flash drives for its PCIe Gen 4 slots. It has demonstrated systems with the Mellanox Innova 2 Ethernet/FPGA card which has not yet announced its general availability date.

Xilinx has a prototype FPGA working on the OpenCAPI link. The interface is based on standard serdes to ease porting for logic chips as well as future storage-class memories, however, IBM gave no other examples of chips planned for the interconnect.

“I think IBM will continue to face issues of ecosystem support. They have Nvidia, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of people rushing to OpenCAPI,” said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64.

“In servers, it’s still Intel’s party, and it’s been hard for anybody else to crash that party. It’s much easier for someone like AMD. You don’t have to change a line of software as opposed to IBM and ARM servers that require software changes that are always problematic,” Brookwood said.

“IBM is clearly the first to use PCI Express Gen 4, but I don’t know if that’s going to make a huge difference in this generation, and next year others will be there too. So, it’s hard to see how they will make much progress against the Intel juggernaut,” he added.

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