Thursday, November 29, 2018

Linux on Power - The Smarter Option for Modern Workloads

By: Paul Cudmore   Categories:Blog, Power Systems

Linux on Power - The Smarter Option for Modern Workloads

IBM has had a long-standing relationship with Linux and has been a big supporter of the operating system for a long time. In 2001, they invested $1 billion in support of the Linux community. IBM is also a large contributor of code updates to the Linux kernel and other open source projects. Because of this support, Linux has been able to run on all IBM systems from an entry level Intel based server all the way up to the zSeries mainframe.

In 2013, IBM doubled-down on the Linux community and invested another $1 billion to help stimulate innovation in the Power Linux ecosystem. This led to more Linux distributions being supported on the Power platform. All major Linux flavours (RedHat, SUSE and Ubuntu) were supported by IBM and the Linux vendors. You could also run the “free” versions like Debian and CentOS. Earlier this year IBM announced that they are buying Red Hat for $34 billion. You could say that IBM is “all-in” on Linux.

Linux on Power
Linux has been supported on the Power platform since 2004, when the Power 5 servers were introduced. Unfortunately, the licencing model meant that you were paying for AIX even though you could run Linux on some of those CPUs. Why would you run Linux when you have already paid for AIX? So when Power 8 was introduced in 2014 the licensing changed and IBM offered “Linux Only” models and this reduced the cost of running Linux on Power servers.

The Endian Factor
The “endianness” of a processor is the order it stores multibyte values in memory. Big endian processors store the most significant bits first and the least significant bits second. Little endian processors do the reverse. When the Power chip was developed it was a big-endian processor. Intel chips are little-endian. What this means is that going from and Intel based server to a Power based server required programs to be converted from little-endian to big-endian. Porting programs from Intel to Power was not a simple process.

Power processors are now bi-endian and can run in either mode. Linux distributions are released for the Power platform in little-endian versions. This mean that you can take a program developed on the Intel platform and just recompile it on a Power server and you don’t have to worry about endianness. There is one less obstacle when moving to Linux on Power.

The Price of Power
There is a common misconception that running Linux on Power is much more expensive than running on Intel servers. This is probably true when looking at the AIX capable servers (e.g. S922, S924, E950 etc.) but this is not the case for the “Linux only” Power servers (L922, LC921/922, AC922). These servers are priced very aggressively and may be cheaper than an equally powerful Intel server. However, IBM Power servers have much higher reliability than a typical Intel based server. Power servers running AIX or Linux can achieve 99.9996% uptime, more than the benchmark of “five-nines”. Given this, why would you run on Intel when you can get equal or better performance AND better reliability for around the same price?

Power 9 – The AI Master
When IBM developed the Power 9 chip, they built it with Machine Learning in mind. The Power 9 chip is the only CPU available with NVLink embedded in its architecture. It can talk directly to Nvidia GPUs without going through the PCI bus, which is a huge bottleneck when dealing with the large amounts of data involved with ML. This makes Power 9 the best choice for your ML workflow and is also the reason the top two supercomputers are using Power 9 based IBM servers.

Let’s look at the hardware options for the Linux only Power 9 servers:

L922 - PowerVM and up to 4TB of Memory LC922 - Crush Data with 44 CPUs and Local Storage Capacity LC921 - Dense Compute Note - 40 CPUs in 1 RU AC922 - Accelerated Computing with up to 6 GPUs
  • 8, 10, 12, 16, 20 or 24 CPUs (SMT8)
  • PowerVM environment (with an HMC, VIOS)
  • Large in-memory databases, On-prem cloud
  • Supports Red Hat, SUSE and Ubuntu
  • 16, 20, 22, 32, 40 or 44 CPUs (SMT4)
  • Up to 2TB memory
  • Big Data Analytics, Spark, MongoDB, My SQL
  • Up to 100 TB of Local Storage
  • Supports Red Hat and Ubuntu
  • 16, 20, 32 or 40 CPUs (SMT4)
  • Up to 2TB memory 
  • Compute Clusters, Analytics, Spark
  • Supports Red Hat and Ubuntu
  • 32, 36, 40 or 44 CPUs (SMT4)
  • Up to 2TB memory
  • Deep Learning/Machine Learning with PowerAI
  • Supports Red Hat and Ubuntu

With IBM’s continued investment in Linux and the attractive price/performance of the Power platform you really should consider IBM Power 9 servers for your Linux workloads.

If you would like to test drive Linux on a Power 9 server please contact us to schedule a test drive today.

Paul Cudmore
Senior Technical Architect
Sentia

Paul Cudmore
Paul Cudmore

Paul Cudmore

Paul comes with many years of experience in the IT industry, having worked with a broad range of hardware and software technologies. He has extensive experience in administering and implementing mid-range infrastructure solutions that include Cloud, Virtualization, Clustering and Storage, and more.

Other posts by Paul Cudmore
Contact author Full biography

Full biography

Paul comes with many years of experience in the IT industry, having worked with a broad range of hardware and software technologies. He has extensive experience in administering and implementing mid-range infrastructure solutions that include Cloud, Virtualization, Clustering and Storage, and more.

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