An eCLipz Looms on the Horizon

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In the Shadow of Poughkeepsie

Since the release of the POWER5 MPU, IBM has held an enviable position in the high end server market. IBM’s pSeries servers are unmatched from a performance standpoint, boasting a 2x performance lead over the nearest competitor in TPC-C and within 5% of the #1 SAP 2D result (which is for a system with twice as many cores). This was achieved by strategically focusing on system level design, and migrating mainframe technologies, such as the 70 layer ceramic MCMs to the POWER4 and POWER5. As a result of this strong product line performance and consistent execution, IBM has been able to rapidly expand server market share, largely to the detriment of Sun Microsystems.

While IBM has made some improvements since the POWER5, the sheer magnitude of the performance lead has given IBM the option of a more leisurely pace of development. According to roadmaps, the POWER5+ was supposed to hit 2.3GHz in 2005. However, with the delay and revised expectations for Montecito, that clock speed boost is probably not needed till mid-2006.

Far from sitting on its laurels, IBM is actively working on the next two generations of their POWER based servers. In fact, the POWER6 has already taped out and the first samples have returned from the fab and are running. This generation of MPUs will be far more interesting than the prior generation, which was largely a refinement and improvement upon the POWER4. The POWER6 is also referred to as part of the eCLipz project, an acronym that stands for “enhanced Core logic for iSeries, pSeries and z Series” (thanks to Philip Payne of Isham Research for that tidbit).

IBM has been rather quiet about the eCLipz project and future POWER and mainframe (zSeries) processors, which has lead to rampant speculation. Naturally most of these theories are extremely dubious, such as a system using coherent interconnects between zArch and POWER processors. However, some of the rumors probably have a micro-kernel of truth to them. Hopefully this article will bring together some of truth out there and avoid the fictitious, fantastical and unlikely. In particular, this article will focus on facts and informed speculation about the nature of the eCLipz project, the upcoming POWER6 MPU and its performance characteristics.

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