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Larry Bolhuis on POWER9, Summit and More

Larry Bolhuis

Paul Tuohy: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. This is greetings from COMMON Europe in Warsaw, where I'm delighted to be joined today―actually to welcome back to iTalk―a man with many names. He is known as El Presidente. He is known as Dr. Franken. He is known as Big Larry. He is known as Little Larry and he is also known as Larry Bolhuis every now and again. So Larry, welcome back to iTalk.

Larry Bolhuis: Thank you Paul. It's good to be here.

Paul: Also nice to be meeting―to be doing it face-to-face again, always nice when we meet up-

Larry: Yes.

Paul: And you will of course because we're about to talk about hardware for a little bit, right? So you will ignore the glazed look that will come into my eyes [laughs] in about two minutes. So―but let's start with the hardware, Larry. Of course, now we have POWER9 out there.

Larry: Yes.

Paul: So I'm really interested. I mean, what's your impression of POWER9? Like is this great, or is it just, "eh, it's another chip?"

Larry: Well you know IBM always releases great hardware, and in this case, the numbering, you know, not a big deal. Much of the model numbers line up again now. We have a 41A again―but that doesn't tell you about the hardware, the POWER9 chip. So phenomenal amount of I/O there. This is the biggest move forward in I/O in a long time and that really fits the cognitive era, right, the big data era.

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: That's where these things really step it up. So not only did we get, you know, more throughput in the queues and in the processor itself, but the big thing is bandwidth. So memory bandwidth, memory capacity on the low end, we're into the multi-terabytes in a small box now. And then the real big one is first computer in the industry to come out with PCIe Generation 4 I/O slots. They are again double―this whole binary thing right?

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: Again, double the throughput of a PCI Generation 3 slot which POWER8 used and which everybody else is using so―

Paul: Yeah. So now you are talking about a couple of things in there―I mean obviously the cognitive and all of this, which we know, is the direction. We're going to come back on that in one second, but the―but for oh, just the Joe Schmoe business. "Yeah, you know I'm on POWER8. I move to POWER9, you know. I'm not going to be doing the cognitive and the AI and all of that, so for me just on that like what does that mean to me? Does it mean like my machine is going to be like twice as fast or what?"

Larry: Well and it's―so the numbers are in the neighborhood of, on just an average processor, you know, 50 percent more throughput.

Paul: Yeah.

Paul: Oh, right [laughs].

Larry: They support―

Paul: I think I know this―

Larry: Their business is supporting the brewery. So do they need POWER9 level of performance? Probably not, but the―one of the big changes that keeps coming through, right, is we all remember we had an installed client on our desktop that ran, you know, Client Access. Well that thing is all done. It's all done in the web now, right, and so when you have this new POWER9 processor, all of that stuff is so much more real time. Those things they've been working on them since release 6, right? 6.1. It wasn't very snappy then because we had, you know, POWER6 processors. But the other thing is―you made the comment that "well they don't need this GUI or they don't need this kind of capability." But what we're seeing is more and more and more people stepping up and adding, you know, GUI front ends, leveraging the tools that IBM has given us, right, to put a web front end, right? And whether that's PHP because that's, you know, a industry standard language right or whether that's leveraging the APIs IBM gave us to replace that green screen with a web interface and now boom: That thing performs better.

Paul: Well it's an interesting thing. If you remember―actually just here at the conference the other day when Steve Will and Alison Butterill were doing―we have the 30-year celebration put on. Of course, they're talking a lot about the innovations that companies are doing on i―

Larry: Yeah.

Paul: And I know to me, from the software guys coming in with this, is because―what I always look at is, to me, is sort of, "what does the hardware make possible?"

Larry: Right.

Paul: Make possible with that. And when we're seeing these things, these phenomenal things that people are doing, and what to me is great for the platform is that―and I was sort of being a little bit smarmy there when I did the "you know, oh for the guy who doesn't need"―

Larry: Sure.

Paul: Because it's not that. Because as you and I know, we now have the hardware that allows us to do basically anything we want.

Larry: Anything we want. Exactly.

Paul: Which is really, really cool. So the other thing and I wanted to swing back on―you touched on it there when you talked about the cognitive and everything like that, of course―is this announcement about this new Summit supercomputer.

Larry: Yeah!

Paul: Which is built on POWER9. So what do you think of that?

Larry: So first off, I think they've kind of missed the boat in one spot. They have all these NVIDIA chips and just think of how big a video screen you could drive with that?! Right [laughs]?

Paul: There speaks the American: "How big a TV set can I get?" Yeah.

Larry: I'm thinking we could do a whole wall of a stadium, right, with this thing. But so it is truly amazing, and if it's―I mean the Summit itself is in the neighborhood of 4,500 chips, it's a little bit more than that. And then in the NVIDIA, there's a 2:1, so there's over 9,000 of those chips in there, right? And so the capability in there―it's in the petaflops, right, of horsepower―and it's I believe 25 percent of the number of nodes of the previous version.

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: So one of the coolest videos I've seen in a long time that didn't involve Elon Musk landing two rockets side by side―because that was just cool―but was the assembly of this supercomputer-

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: Right and it's a time-lapse thing. It's just incredible to sit there and it's―I want to say it's five minutes, but maybe not that long―but just to watch that thing coming your way―

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: As they assemble the floor and but―

Paul: It's about the size of two tennis courts―

Larry: Yes.

Paul: If I remember.

Larry: Yeah, yeah. And and then they're also are using the new skinnier racks with the really way cool front door that I need to get my hands on [laughs]. Everybody wants one of those front doors. But you just look at how many―the density of it, how much power is being consumed in that room, and yet how more efficient it is than the previous generation.

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: It's like something like 25 kilowatts per rack, I think, is the power.

Paul: So the fact, Larry, that at the moment, this world's―which is now the fastest-

Larry: Yes.

Paul: Bestest supercomputer out there, and that it's basically the same hardware as the POWER9 there―so have you got plans for building Frankie 2? Are we going to get Super Frankie?

Larry: Yeah, Super Frankie.

Paul: While you're working in the laboratory late one night?

Larry: Yeah with some goofy music in the background. Yeah. The―so Super Frankie probably isn't coming just yet, because all of the new chips are still relatively expensive.

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: So at some point, yeah. We'll―the Frankies run a couple of generations behind. I always said that I had Watson's grandfather [laughs] in my basement, right, because it was two generations older than Watson.

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: Right so but the―the possibility does exist at some point.

Paul: I will keep watching this space.

Larry: That's right. Watch this space and if there's a glow near the Franken line―and you can find the Franken line on Google maps, by the way.

Paul: Really?

Larry: Yeah, it's a-you can actually Google it. It's in there.

Paul: Oh, I didn't know that.

Larry: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: Okay. That's―what's with―let me finish this. I'll Google it.

Larry: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: Okay so let me change totally away from hardware, because the other big thing and especially for you this year.

Larry: Yup.

Paul: And as I said here, I don't know whether to congratulate you or commiserate with you, El Presidente, sir, as I am now down on one knee―because of course this year you are now President of COMMON US.

Larry: Yes.

Paul: Okay so now I've got to say, Larry―because as you know many years ago I worked as a volunteer with COMMON US, and we worked together on many committees.

Larry: Yes, yes.

Paul: And I remember many good times and also the thing I want to remember: There were many difficult things that we did together. There were a few of the projects that we did there that were when that stage when COMMON was on a downturn―

Larry: Yes.

Paul: And there were hard things had to be done.

Larry: Oh, yeah.

Paul: We worked together. So I know you are a man who is well capable of this job. So my question, I think, to you, Larry, is that so when people look back on your tenure as president―

Larry: Uh-huh. Yup.

Paul: Do you have something you want to be remembered as? As opposed to just the guy who was president, and he was a great president, do you have something there going that you want to be remembered as that you achieved in your year?

Larry: Yeah. I appreciate that question because when I look at being president, it is about not just being a good leader. That's part of it, but to me it's finding that guy or that gal who didn't know they needed education. Right? If you go to the Google or the Yahoo or the Bing or whoever your favorite one is and you search for IBM i education, right, you will find COMMON.

Paul: Yup.

Larry: Right. If you search for IBM i conference, we will be the first one that shows up on all of those lists. But you had to know you needed us.

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: And that's the thing. So many of these shops―you know we talk about the advance in the hardware, we talk about the advance in the software and all these things―but there is a lot of shops out there that they, 30 years. Some of them are still running code 30 years old. They just don't realize that they need us.

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: And when they find us, they're blown away. Right?

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: And it is not us, COMMON, that's blowing them away. It's us, COMMON, assembling that education, bringing those vendors together, right? And they're standing at the―I mean literally at this past PowerUp conference, talking to a customer, and the poor woman is just standing there almost slack jawed with, "I didn't know."

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: Right. And that's―so that's the key: finding those people and bringing them back and having them realize that, "you know, it's not an AS/400 anymore."

Paul: Yeah. Yeah indeed. So I mean good luck Larry and I mean―I―you know if we'd been having this conversation, maybe four or five years ago, I got to be honest with you. I would have been pessimistic. I would have sort of saying to you, "I wish you the best of luck with a thing like that." But as we know―and actually we've seen here, I think a little bit with COMMON Europe with some of the countries, some of the individual countries are here, so you know like Sweden, Denmark, and the U.K.―where suddenly they're growing again.

Larry: Yes.

Paul: You know and they're finding ways, as you say, to get to these people. Of course, this is a totally different challenge in somewhere the size of the U.S.―

Larry: Yes.

Paul: To get out to that, you know, as opposed to―I mean, let's just look at how much distance you've got to cover there―but I'm telling you, no better man for the challenge than you.

Larry: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Paul: So―so, okay so let's see: So far I've covered the Larry Bolhuis, we've touched on the Dr. Franken, I got the El Presidente, so―but why are you called Big Larry?

Larry: Well it's kind of―Larry is relatively common name in our area, so I walk into a customer and they already have a Larry. But I'm bigger than that Larry, so we have to have a differentiator. So at 6-foot-5, I'm Big Larry.

Paul: Okay so at 6-foot-5; I can understand that at 6-foot-5. Why Little Larry then? That doesn't make sense. I mean if you're 6' 5", how can you be―unless it's sort of like one of those joke names, you know―because we do this a lot in Ireland, by the way.

Larry: Okay.

Paul: We have a thing, so if you're big you'll be called little, if you're little, you will be called gigantor or something like that.

Larry: Right. Right.

Paul: That's the thing, you know, because it is supposed to be humorous. So is that it? Is that why you're called Little Larry?

Larry: Well actually, I'm the runt in my family and so―

Paul: Sorry. You're the runt of the family?

Larry: Right. Yes. So I have a Dutch heritage. The name Bolhuis―as you can imagine, right?―and the Dutch are the tallest average height, right?

Paul: Yeah.

Larry: And despite the fact that being first to the dinner table because I'm the oldest, my brothers are taller than I am.

Paul: So I'm nearly afraid to ask: How tall are your brothers?

Larry: Well what we call The Little One is, as he puts it, 5-foot-22 [laughs] which―because my mother was 5-foot-12. She didn't want to be six foot as a woman.

Paul: Okay.

Larry: So he is 5-foot-22.

Paul: Okay.

Larry: Which is 6-foot-10 for those bad at math.

Paul: Yeah and the other brother?

Larry: He is 6' 6".

Paul: Oh, so just that close to you.

Larry: Right so, you know, but yeah.

Paul: Okay so listen: I think this is a good one to end on and I'm looking forward in a couple of minutes Larry to watching you―as usual―hit your head off the top of the door leaving the room [laughs].

Larry: Get the little radar hat you know beep, beep, beep. What is that? Needs new batteries. Ouch.

Paul: So Larry, thanks for taking the time to talk to me and again, best of luck with your tenure as president of COMMON this year.

Larry: All right.

Paul: I hope you enjoy it as well.

Larry: Thanks, Paul.

Paul: Okay everybody that's it for this iTalk. Tune in again in a couple of weeks for the next one. Bye for now.

Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.

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