The IBM Cloud has started offering POWER based Virtual Servers atop their Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) offering. The values of this integration are many:

  • Differentiated AI/ML/DL capabilities due to NVLink2 CPU-to-GPU bandwidth
  • SMT-4 capable processors
  • High memory bandwidth due to 8 DDR4 memory channels
  • 50% higher memory bandwidth per vCPU than the x86 equivalent profiles due to PCIe Gen 4
  • Lower cost than comparable x86 VSI profiles

This all sounds great, but how do you get started? The good news is, getting started takes just a few minutes!

Embedded below is a video that walks you through the steps start to finish. For those that prefer text, I’ve also inlcuded the getting started steps below.

 

Pre-requisites

Before you get started, you need a paid IBM Cloud account. See “Upgraded IBM Cloud” for information on how to create and then upgrade you Cloud account. If this is a new IBM Cloud account, you get a $200 starting credit which is more than enough for a couple new POWER based VSIs.

What is a VPC?

Before we go through the steps of creating your first POWER based virtual server, lets step back and understand the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) solution. A VPC is simply, a private cloud within a public cloud. It has strong isolation policies through technologies like SDN to prevent access and limit the attack surface area within a public cloud.

The IBM Cloud VPCs are regional. A region has a set of Availability Zones (at least three), which are data centers that are geo-located together but have different physical networking, power grids, etc… Think of an Availability Zone as a fault zone.

To deploy a cloud native application, you may want to have a servers spanning multiple availability zones. However, for development purposes you may never need a second availability zone.

With that background, let’s get started!

Creating Your First POWER-based VSI

The steps for creating your first VSI shouldn’t take too long –about 10 minutes. Mostly require some background on the general concepts. Reading this blog will take longer than actually creating your VSIs. After you’ve made your first VSI, you’ll be able create new VSIs in a minute or two.

Step 1: Navigate to the VPC Infrastructure

To get started, you need to navigate to the IBM Cloud VPC Gen 2 Infrastructure. There are many ways to get there –going through the IBM Cloud catalog, clicking the navigation menu in cloud.ibm.com. Or you can directly jump to the VPC service by clicking here.

Step 2: Create Your VPC & Subnet

Before you get started, you need to create your VPC. Under the Network section click the VPCs menu option. This shows you all of the virtual private clouds you have created.

This VPC is the entity that defines the security boundaries for your virtual server instances (VSIs). For a simple test case, simply add a name for the VPC like the following.

VPC Create Panel

A subnet must also be created. The VPC create panel allows you to create a subnet. Pick one of the Dallas Zones for the Subnet.

Subnet Create Panel

If you want to create a highly available application, you can create additional subnets in the other locations. The subnets within the VPC must all be within a single region.

Note that I’ve also attached a Public Gateway. That allows the VSIs that will use this to connect to the broader internet. But it does not allow the public internet to get into your private network. This simply creates a router for your VSIs to download from the public internet.

Click the create button and you’ve created your first VPC!

VPC Overview Panel

Step 3: Uploading your Public SSH Key

In order to sign into your VSIs, you need to specify the SSH key that gets used on deploys. If you are unsure if you have a SSH key, the VPC documentation provide some information on how to locate and/or generate a SSH key locally: https://cloud.ibm.com/docs/vpc?topic=vpc-ssh-keys#locating-ssh-keys

Once you have generated a key on your workstation, go to the VPC UI and click on the SSH keys page. From there, click on “Add SSH key”. Take the contents of your public key and copy it into the “Public key” field. Make sure you upload it to the same region as your VPC.

Add Public SSH Key Panel

Be sure that you use the public key, not your private key.

It’s also important to understand that servers in VPC do not have passwords. They are only able to log in with SSH key-pairs. This reduces your risk of having someone break into a VSI dramatically (specifically those you choose to put on the public Internet).

Step 4: Create your first Power VSI

You are now ready to create your first virtual server. Click into “Virtual Server Instances” and then press the “New Instance” button. Provide a name, select the right VPC and Zone (Location).

From there you can pick the processor architecture as POWER and select your VSI profile.

Provision VSI Panel

You can add additional network interfaces or storage LUNs to the image. By default the boot image has 100 GB of storage available to it.

When a VSI is shut off, you are not charged for the instance but you are for the storage that the instance uses. You can manage your expenses by shutting down the VSI periodically. This is particularly useful for larger or GPU based instances.

Step 5: Assigning a Floating IP Address

Now that you have a VSI, you’ll notice it has a private IP Address. In this case, it’s a 10.x.x.x address, which is not an internet facing IP address. This is the nature of VPC infrastructure. Your instances are on private subnets that can’t be accessed from the outside world.

VSI Details Panel

However, you can create a Floating IP Address that takes an Internet IPv4 address and maps it to your VSI. To do this, click into the server, scroll to Network Interfaces and click the “Reserve +” under floating IP.

Network Interfaces Panel

After doing so, you’ll have a public internet facing IP address.

VSI Details Panel with Floating IP

You can SSH to your VSI using the floating IP from any computer in the world that can communicate with the Internet. However, the VM itself will only understand the 10.x.x.x address. This public IP address is connected via Network Address Translation.

Step 6: Using your VSI

Congratulations! You have provisioned your first POWER based VSI on the IBM Cloud. To use the VSI, just run ssh root@x.x.x.x where x.x.x.x is the IP address of your Floating IP.

You should be greeted with a nice login screen.

VSI SSH Console

As you can see at the login screen, this is a ppc64le VSI. A couple basic commands show you that this is in fact a POWER system.

VSI Processor Details

Go for Turbo

At the beginning of the blog, I mentioned that Power9 based VSIs offer up to 2x the threads of the x86 comparable VSIs. This is due to the SMT-4 nature of the Power9 cores. By default, the cores boot in SMT-2 mode which is comparable to x86.

If you have an application that needs more throughput, you can enable SMT-4 mode easily. Simply run ppc64le_cpu --smt=4.

Go for turbo with SMT-4

This lets you drive more throughput within the overall system. The default is SMT-2 in case you have applications which are sensitive to having higher number of threads within a core. But SMT-4 is a great way to drive higher performance for applications and we encourage you to take advantage of it!

What’s Next?

So you have your first POWER VSI ready to rock. What’s next? We encourage you to:

Enjoy the POWER!

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