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IBM no comments way to optical Power7 confirmation

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Not satisfied with flexing its machismo through the zippy 4.0+GHz Power6 chip, IBM appears to have a couple rather radical notions in mind to improve its Unix server performance over the next couple of years.

IBM refuses to confirm much of anything around what the Power7 successor to Power6 will look like. We do know, however, that the chip should arrive in 2010 and will serve as a major component in an IBM system being crafted for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). IBM won a very lucrative DARPA bid to create a supercomputer class machine that would let the US leap at least one generation ahead of rival countries in compute power.

To achieve such a speed-up, one might speculate that IBM will turn to optical networking technology in some parts of its DARPA system. This could come in the form of server to server interconnects or even on-board or on-chip optical interconnects that replace wires. Given our chat yesterday with IBM's lead Power6 designer Brad McCredie, we think the latter options are definitely goers.

"We looked at optical stuff for awhile with Power6," McCredie said. "We looked at it really hard, but the cost versus performance ratio didn't pay off. Still, we're looking at again with Power7."

So, you're talking about on-board/on-chip optical interconnects?

McCredie clammed up at that point, so we pushed again with the same question.

"Optical is good stuff," he said.

McCredie had the look of a man who wanted to tell us everything about how wonderful IBM's optical interconnects will be with Power7 but had to hold back because of the corporate secrecy monster. That said, we saw IBM's research teams demonstrating their optical skills at last November's Supercomputer conference in Reno and will stick with our bet that IBM will be one of the first chip makers to get the optical networking at least on-board.

IBM also seems set on using a variety of specialized accelerators to speed the performance of its Unix boxes.

FPGAs, GPGPUs and the like have become all the rage in the x86 market with a number of companies crafting products that fit into chip sockets or PCI/HTX slots. The accelerator story, however, has been less discussed in the Unix/RISC/Itanium realm.

The Cell chip has carved out a spot in the accelerator game, and IBM is building a hybrid Cell/Opteron supercomputer for Los Alamos National Laboratory where the Cell silicon will pick up jobs not handled as well by general purpose chips. McCredie, again with an awkward silence, seemed to hint that similar plan could be afoot with Unix boxen.

"In the future, the next way to make a big move with performance it to put in execution engines that don't run the full operating system," he said. "I'm talking about putting things like clocks and latches (into accelerators).

"We are going to build off that experience doing Cell."

McCredie declined to say if IBM would go it alone as far as building these specialized engines or if it would partner, although you can likely expect that IBM will do a bit of both.

Think we speculated enough on McCredie's no comments and silent moments?

Yes, thought so. ®

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