Some Linux on Power Considerations
Linux on Power and L3C
As one of IBM’s Power Cloud partners, we have been always on the road of considering how IBM Power technology fits into the customer’s every-day life.
The most obvious application of the technology of course is enabling customers, who have critical workloads on AIX operating systems usually focused on large database implementations like Oracle and SAP HANA as well as IBM-native application products. With this being a topic widely disused in other posts and use cases on our website, we will not delve into that currently.
The combination of open source implementations and the dominating usage of Linux distributions made us wanting to share our impressions on how IBM’s Power technology fits into that.
L3C as a combined provider of Power cloud solutions including AIX and Linux as well as a platform partner of various deep and machine learning software vendors, is thinking and working in a number of directions.
IBM’s Linux Strategy
As most of you know IBM has been striving to take an important place in the Linux market for a number of years. Part of these steps were to open its Power hardware architecture enabling other hardware vendors to take advantage of the technology thus relying to improve its popularity. This move definitely provided results with Google being one of the most prominent users of Power technology word-wide.
IBM is in fact one of the largest donators to the Linux project itself. A bit outdated 2017 report on the Kernel development contribution can be found on the Linux foundation site, which we think is evidence enough that IBM is taking this seriously. The company is placed on fourth place even before Google. Having in mind that the company recently joint forces with Red Hat, this would undoubtedly secure its second place (at least) in the report.
A few years back starting intensively with the Power8 platform, IBM also announced its first pure Linux-only implementation servers. Just a few words if you do not know what this is. They are Power-based servers combining most of IBM’s hardware advantages with highly attractive pricing, which for the first time made IBM Power servers comparable to x86 financial levels.
With this, we saw an increased possibility to start landing on our Power Cloud platform even small and medium-sized customers, including start-ups and spin-offs as well as to easily provide development and PoC platform for even small projects to test their products.
The Rise of the Docker
Starting our work with IBM’s AI Power platform – the so called PowerAI package- a few years ago it was also obvious that the entire eco system is Linux-based only. One thing that you should know if not already is that data scientists (which are your main target in the deep and machine leaning world) use only open source tools. Numerous Python libraries, free training frameworks like Tensorflow (which by far is the most used one) profit intensively from its open source character and receive an enormous development support from the community.
One other factor in the AI world is the fact that NVIDIA’s GPUs are currently by far the most performant ones and actually monopolize the GPU market for deep and machine learning. Having said that it was clear to us that when deploying PowerAI servers with NVIDIA GPU’s we will have to always watch how these two giants approach the industry.
Right from the start it became clear that we need to utilize Docker instances. All of NVIDIA and IBM PowerAI images were based only on Docker, with IBM’s PowerAI Vision product being an entire Kubernetes-docker environment. As we needed to spread load on nodes between different customers and partners, we found it a bit out-of-place as we were used to working with Docker for rapid development instances.
Thus, at the beginning we received one of the directions to develop our cloud platform for Power – Docker and Kubernetes as orchestrator. Impressions were excellent – excellent support for Docker on Power either on RHEL or Ubuntu, quick and stable releases, strong compatibility.
Having mentioned AI, we would also not exclude the main part of the customers using Docker on Power. Small and large development team with complex continuous integration and deployment pipelines found the combination between GIT-standard tools and Kubernetes orchestration to Docker on Power as valuable assets.
Containers in production – LXD
Having a slight incline within our technical team to Ubuntu usage, one of natural choices for us as cloud and managed service provider were its rapidly developing container technology. Widely used for workloads with virtual-machine type virtualization needs, their flexibility and efficiency was important for us when thinking about pure Linux implementations on Power servers.
Very quickly it became clear they are easy to implement and use and provide a significant utilization on the Power nodes while delivering a high-class security isolation as well.
In order to bring more availability to the environment we introduced CEPH implementations as well, which is another wide and very interesting topic.
The combination allowed us to bring an almost enterprise-level architecture with open sourced solutions only. Once again, the compatibility and the strong release support for the Power-based Linux distributions delivered.
What about PowerVM?
PowerVM is still the thing of course. PowerVM for Linux puts you to another level. You start working with things you understand and love from the past – LPARs, HMCs, etc. Being the world’s most secure, available and flexible hypervisor, PowerVM is an easy choice to make if you can bear the price difference. There is significant gap in how IBM prices its PowerVM and its pure Linux-only servers.
Of course – if you need the simplified remote restart, live partition mobility and the external storage options you will need to think again before moving entirely to open-source.
However, this is the future.
Conclusion (for now)
A lot of other options we have tested and used on Power like KVM are not described here. We may write another post with our impressions there.
But we hope we have provided you with some information on how Linux on Power could address your needs. If interesting, please share in the comments or just let us know in the contact page or at firstname.lastname@example.org