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How Power Systems Helps Clients Manage Today’s Data Challenges

data complexity
Illustration by Tatiana Plakhova

Data, the lifeblood of any business, used to be structured and organized neatly as columns and rows. Today, data categories are no longer tidy. The volume, variety, velocity and veracity of data leads to complex data management challenges. Companies are grappling with a growing tangle of unstructured data types including social media data feeds, streaming video, system logs and human notes such as those related to patient-client interactions or call center user interactions. As the Internet of Things becomes part of our everyday lives, sensor data from devices joins the mix.

This volume of data is potentially as useful as it is unwieldy. Companies are gaining business insights from this rich array of data, which lets them target customers more effectively, improve operational efficiencies and weed out security risks. However, without new approaches to handling the data, companies will flounder.

“With CAPI-attached flash capability, managing a large Redis Labs database doesn’t necessarily require your system to have enormous amounts of memory.”
—Keshav Ranganathan, Power Systems analytics offering manager

IBM is developing innovations to help clients derive insights from the data and handle it efficiently. “Our clients recognize that they won’t be competitive in their markets if they don’t efficiently tackle and learn from these data sources,” says Steve Roberts, big data offering manager for IBM Power Systems*.

When demand for big data and analytics took off a few years ago, IBM responded by specifically designing POWER8* processors to accommodate large amounts of data. The POWER8 balanced architecture uses processor multithreading, large intelligent caches, and memory and I/O bandwidth to handle today’s workloads easily.

The POWER8 processor has 64 registers compared to 16 registers in an x86 processor

“When you look at the overall system design, the capability to provide in the neighborhood of 2.5 times I/O and memory bandwidth means you can move data in and out of the processor and among memory and CPU better,” says Linton B. Ward, IBM Distinguished Engineer and chief engineer big data, Power Systems.

POWER8 technology has an edge from the start with its numerous threads and cores that accelerate its processing capabilities. Larger cache and memory as well as more registers provide enhanced performance. The POWER8 processor has 64 registers compared to 16 registers in an x86 processor. More registers mean faster data handling, says Keshav Ranganathan, Power Systems analytics offering manager. “We start with the high-performance POWER8 processor and take a holistic view of all surrounding elements, memory, network, accelerators, et cetera, to design systems that deliver exceptional performance for a range of big data and analytics workloads,” he says.

Adding Acceleration

To enable greater client value, IBM introduced a unique innovative technology called Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI) to attach accelerators and external devices. CAPI enables external processing engines to act like extensions of the processor. CAPI provides a high-bandwidth, low-latency path between external devices, the POWER8 core and the system’s open-memory architecture. CAPI adapters reside in regular Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) x16 slots, and use PCIe Gen 3 as an underlying transport mechanism.

Because of CAPI’s peer-to-peer coherent relationship with the POWER8 processor, data-intensive programs are easily offloaded to the field-programmable gate array (FPGA), freeing the POWER8 processor cores to run standard software programs. CAPI can also be used as a base for flash memory expansion and that’s how it’s employed for the IBM Data Engine for NoSQL—Power Systems Edition.

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at



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