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IBM unveils first 7nm processor, tailor-made for the containerised cloud

Written by Tue 18 Aug 2020

Power10 data centre chip to ship Q3 2021

After five years of research and development, IBM has taken the wraps off its first 7nm processor, which is packed with features to cater to the demands of modern-day hybrid cloud computing.

The tiny chip is the tenth iteration of IBM’s flagship Power processor range and is destined for enterprise data centres by the second half of 2021.

7-nanometre fabrication is at the cutting edge of bitesize chip manufacturing and affords major gains in power efficiency and performance compared to the 14-nanometre process, like that used for IBM’s current-generation Power9 semiconductor. IBM said Power10 will deliver a three-fold improvement in capacity and processor energy efficiency compared to Power9.

Efficiencies aside, it is the chip’s hybrid cloud optimisations that Big Blue will hope win over enterprises.

Specifically, Power10 is tailor-made for Red Hat OpenShift, the container orchestration platform IBM inherited when it acquired Red Hat for $34 billion in 2018.

IBM said Power10-based systems will support a three-times increase in OpenShift container density for hybrid cloud workloads. Additionally, the chip provides enforced container protection at the hardware level to address security concerns associated with the increasingly higher density of containerised workloads. Namely, the chip prevents compromised containers from infecting other containers in the same Virtual Machine.

“IBM Power10 brings hardware-based capacity and security enhancements for containers to the IT infrastructure level,” said Stephen Leonard, GM of IBM Cognitive Systems.

Other noteworthy features include Memory Inception, a technology that improves cloud capacity and economics for memory-intensive workloads, such as those used to train large AI models.

Chipping away

IBM Research has worked with partner Samsung for over a decade to refine the technology behind Power10 and the companies were actually the first to demonstrate a test 7nm chip back in 2015, two years before chip giant Intel teased its own 7nm tech.

Intel’s 7nm server chips were supposed to start shipping this year but have been repeatedly delayed due to well-documented production difficulties.

This July Intel said its 7nm designs won’t be ready until 2023, a year behind the company’s initial target, prompting the company’s stock to plunge 16 percent. Rival  AMD began shipping its Epyc Rome 7nm server chips last year.

As IBM has outsourced manufacturing to Samsung, which has been reliably churning out 7nm chips since 2018, we can safely expect Power10 to start shipping as planned, a solid two years before Intel’s alternative – giving Big Blue a precious opportunity to strengthen its position against the floundering chipmaker.

Written by Tue 18 Aug 2020

Tags:

7nm chips hardware IBM Intel
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