IBM updates its mainframe processor to help AI

IBM's Telum processor will have on-chip acceleration for artificial intelligence inferencing.

ibm z15 mainframe

IBM has introduced a new CPU for its Z Series mainframe that’s designed for transactions like banking, training, insurance, customer interactions, and fraud detection.

The Telum processor was unveiled at the annual Hot Chips conference and has been in development for three years to provide high-volume, real-time inferencing needed for artificial intelligence.

The Telum design is very different from its System z15 predecessor. It features 8 CPU cores, on-chip workload accelerators, and 32MB of what IBM calls Level 2 semi-private cache. The L2 cache is called semi-private because it is used to build a shared virtual 256MB L3 connection between the cores on the chip. This is a 1.5x growth in cache size over the z15.

The CPU comes in a module design that includes two closely coupled Telum processors, so you get 16 cores per socket running at 5Ghz. IBM Z systems pack their processors in what are known as drawers, with four sockets per drawer. The Telum processor will be manufactured by Samsung using a 7nm process, as compared to the 14nm process used for the z15 processor.

Stopping Fraud

IBM mainframes are still heavily used in online transaction processing (OLTP) and one of the problems that bedevils OLTP is that fraud usually isn’t caught until after it is committed.

Doing real-time analysis on millions of transactions is just not doable, particularly when fraud analysis and detection is conducted far away from mission-critical transactions and data, IBM says. AI could help, but AI workloads have much larger computational requirements than operating workloads.

“Due to latency requirements, complex fraud detection often cannot be completed in real-time—meaning a bad actor could have already successfully purchased goods with a stolen credit card before the retailer is aware fraud has taken place,” the company said in a blog post announcing Telum.

So the new chip is designed for real-time, AI-specific financial workloads. Just how it will work is not exactly known. Telum-based z16 mainframes are not expected until the second half of 2022.


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