IBM Accelerating Data Centre Applications
IBM Accelerating Data Centre Applications

Xilinx and IBM have announced they are to deepen their collaboration beyond work in the OpenPOWER Foundation.

This is a multi-year deal focused on Xilinx Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA)-enabled workload acceleration and IBM POWER-based systems. The length of the deal means that Xilinx are going to be tightly integrated with more than IBM POWER8 processors but also the POWER9 and probably the POWER10 processors.

This is good news for those customers looking to IBM POWER-based systems as it means that they will benefit from both POWER-based solutions purchased through IBM and those purchased through the OpenPOWER Foundation. The main focus for Xilinx is workload acceleration by using FPGAs to hold customised code based on the application that the customer is running on the system.

Ken King, General Manager, OpenPOWER Alliances, IBM Systems
Ken King, General Manager, OpenPOWER Alliances, IBM Systems

Ken King, General Manager, OpenPOWER, IBM said: “The combination of IBM and Xilinx provides our clients not only with a new level of accelerated computing made possible by the tight integration between IBM POWER processors and Xilinx FPGAs, but also gives them the ability to benefit directly from the constant stream of innovation being delivered by the rapidly expanding OpenPOWER ecosystem.”

The initial application areas mentioned in the press release are:

  • Machine learning
  • Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV)
  • Genomics
  • High Performance Computing (HPC)
  • Big Data Analytics.

IBM developing solutions for Xilinx accelerator boards

As part of this agreement, IBM Systems Group developers will create a series of solution stacks for POWER-based systems. These solutions will look to accelerate specific data centre architectures such as OpenStack, Docker and Spark. The goal is to significantly reduce the latency of the solutions.

Xilinx will also be doing its own development alongside IBM. It will focus on making its SDAccel Development Environment and code libraries available to the OpenPOWER developer community. Many developers will hope that this means access through Bluemix. However the one place where these are likely to be seen first is SuperVessel, the cloud-based development environment launched in China back in July.

The focus of SuperVessel was to give developers an early opportunity to understand how to use accelerators with their applications. It will be interesting if IBM now brings that experience to a wider market and either creates a wider SuperVessel platform or embeds SuperVessel inside IBM Bluemix.

Further extending CAPI

One area of joint development is IBM’s Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI). This enables accelerator technologies to appear as if they are part of the main POWER8 processor core. Initial success here has been around big data and analytics solutions where flash memory has been added to servers and then accessed directly by the CPU rather than over the system bus.

So far, CAPI has been used mainly by developers looking to build big data solutions capable of holding very large amounts of data in-memory. The investment by IBM in Apache Spark has also benefitted from CAPI as it has allowed in-memory data to be addressed in parallel across multiple systems. IBM claims this provides developers with the ability to match the performance of x86-based systems using just 1/24 of the number of POWER-based systems.

CAPI is not the only accelerator technology that IBM is looking to work with. It is also collaborating with NVIDIA who is using their NVLink high-speed interconnect to take advantage of GPUs and IBM POWER8 processors. What is not yet clear is whether it will be possible to use both CAPI and NVLink in the same system. If so, this creates an incredible powerful platform for data analysis and visualisation.


IBM is increasingly looking at its OpenPOWER Foundation partners to save it money on R&D around POWER-based systems. This agreement with Xilinx to more tightly integrate FPGA accelerator boards into POWER-based systems is a good example of how technology and solutions are flowing back and forth.

By signing Xilinx to a multi-year contract that will cover the POWER9 and POWER10 processors, IBM is also signalling to other members of the OpenPOWER Foundation that it wants a closer relationship with them. This is a clever move by IBM as while it won’t eliminate the competition between IBM and OpenPOWER Foundation members in the sales channel, it will ensure that all parties get access to the best technology in order to step up the battle against Intel.


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