Power 4 the People

IBM's RISC push


Server briefing IBM's attempt to re-capture the Unix server market continues apace. Having fallen well behind Sun and HP during the late 1990s, largely thanks to a complicated customer-confusing product line, parts of the business competing with other parts of the business and Sun's aggressive pursuit of the Internet server market, Big Blue modified its approach in October 2000. It rebranded, consolidated and streamlined its product line, and more closely allied itself to the Linux movement.

Today, a little more than 18 months on, it's hard to judge the move a success. IBM has come to dominate the Linux market, at least in terms of the money it makes. But its Q1 2002 31.5 per cent share - Gartner Dataquest's figure - arises from shipping the free OS with high ticket items like mainframes. When it comes to who's shipped the most boxes, HP holds the crown, thanks to the Compaq takeover.

And in the Unix market, IBM remains in third place, behind Sun and HP, by units and by revenue. But the economic downturn may have muddied the picture - would IBM's strategy have paid off had the server market not as far as it has?

Certainly, IBM can't be accused of not trying hard. Last October, a year on from the new strategy's launch, the company launched its latest 64-bit server processor, the 1.3GHz Power4 and quickly won plaudits for the performance of its p690 server, based on the new chip. IBM has called the Power4 a "game changer" and it's clear the chip's main role is as an UltraSparc killer.

Power4, based on the PowerPC instruction set architecture and equipped with two processor cores per die (four of which are mounted in each CPU module) has already moved into IBM's mid-range Unix servers and should be installed in low-end boxes by the end of the year, just as Sun has spread the UltraSparc III across its own product line. There are even hints that IBM is ultimately looking to migrate the technology into server blades, but clearly it has a lot of work to do on power consumption first.

IBM's aggressive roadmap doesn't stop there. Power4's successor, cunningly called Power5, is scheduled to ship in 2005 and take the chip family to 2GHz and beyond. It will incorporate Fast Path, a technology that will allow the chip to manipulate network traffic directly. Details are sparse, but Fast Path sounds like it could be some kind of SIMD technology geared toward processing IP stack data, a role typically performed in software. However the technology works, it should tie in nicely with InfiniBand high-bandwidth data links.

Power5 will also boast simultaneous multi-threading technology along the lines of Intel's Hyper-Threading. This will spilt each physical core into two or more virtual processors to handle multiple instruction threads in parallel. The jury is still out on how much of a difference this kind of approach actually makes (see Hyper-Threading score are hyper-perplexing) but there's potential for some significant performance gains here.

Finally, Power5 will bring on board elements of IBM's eLiza self-management and fault-correction technology, allowing the chip to recover from and deal with errors on the fly.

Beyond that, Power6 is expected to emerge in 2006, but it remains shrouded in mystery. Will IBM have surpassed Sun by then? Hard to say, but the technology it's bringing to Power, not to mention customer concern over just how (and when) HP is going to transition from PA-Risc/Alpha to Itanium, could yet help Big Blue move up into second place.


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022