Military Embedded Systems keeps the wheels turning and evolution churning on everything "Power Architecture" - Q&A with Fawzi Behmann, Director of Marketing and Strategic Advisor at


July 27, 2011

Chris A. Ciufo

General Micro Systems, Inc. keeps the wheels turning and evolution churning on everything "Power Architecture" - Q&A with Fawzi Behmann, Director of Marketing and Strategic Advisor at

Most of us in the embedded design realm have probably tucked a PowerPC, PowerQUICC, or some other Power Architecture incarnation into an application or system in our time. But where, oh where has Power Architecture ended up? While Intel ramps up and delivers its high-profile industry vision, is steadily and more quietly (for now) putting its pedal to the mettle to sustain and grow the Power Architecture road map. Editor Chris Ciufo recently sat down with Fawzi Behmann, Director of Marketing and Strategic Advisor at, to get an inside look at the organization: past, present, and future.

How did get started?

BEHMANN: As suppliers such as Motorola, Apple, and IBM were carrying out the goal of Power Architecture or PowerPC, the notion of arose, so that it would carry the ball in Power ISA. The focus would be conserving the Power Architecture and instruction set for both the embedded and the compute [markets]. would generate technical committees to develop various specifications that aid development by member companies. The organization would also encourage opportunities to promote the Power Architecture ecosystem. So came onto the scene back in 2005, with IBM and Freescale as founding members. And we recently celebrated PowerPC’s 20th anniversary.

How is doing in market share these days?

BEHMANN: The 2009 Processors market size for 32- and 64-bit processors was $63 billion. Then the Power Architecture market share [according to IMS research] is $4.4 billion of that (broken down by these segments):

  • #1: 32-bit MPU
  • #2: 64-bit CPU
  • #2: 32-bit MCU
  • #1: 32-bit FPGA
  • #3: 64-bit MPU
  • #3: ASIC and ASSP

Who are the members of

BEHMANN: We have three levels: founder, sponsor, and participant. They could be on the silicon supplier level or they could be at the SoC level; they could be at the OS or they could be in the middle layer or in the higher-end or applicational solutions. We also collaborate with a variety of communities, like the Linux community, and with other standards development organizations.

We additionally consult with customers and with market researchers in terms of opportunities. But our technical committees try to focus on three things: 1) What would the road map look like? 2) How do we go about what matters in terms of software? and 3) What matters in terms of platform and ecosystem? So we try to work with the core members and ecosystem partners and developers. We have about 2,500 developers working with Power Architecture.

What is the biggest market that Power Architecture products find themselves in?

BEHMANN: I would say communications, networking, and enterprise servers. We are also strong in wireless infrastructure, strong on automation in terms of the application. Also, we have quite a presence in military, aerospace, and medical imaging. And certainly the automotive, industrial, and consumer markets are also strong for us.

What really drives Power Architecture behind the scenes?

BEHMANN: What drives Power Architecture more than anything is really the Power ISA or the Power Instruction Set Architecture because it’s 64-bit and 32-bit, addressable, and provides capabilities for developers to build an architecture that is scalable from a very low end to a high end. Today we’re deploying processors all the way from 60 MHz to 5 GHz. But with that, there’s a progression in terms of which capabilities we need to have in the instruction set.

Tell me more about the Power ISA progression you’ve mentioned.

BEHMANN: We’ve had a series of evolution in terms of Power ISA standards – 2.03 all the way to 2.06 – since the inception of The 2.04, 5, and 6 address specific areas dealing with multicore virtualization, hypervisors, and energy management – which are really what future systems are pulling for now because they’re getting more complicated, more complex, more scalable, more multicore, utilizing multithreading, and so on.

When you say “Power Architecture,” what does that encompass exactly?

BEHMANN: The Power Brand is an umbrella brand that covers any emerging power product road map made by member companies. So Power7 was introduced last year to come on the Power Architecture, also Power EN [Edge of Network], PowerPC, QorIQ, PowerQUICC, and so on.

Not only that, the 2011 road map continues to demonstrate a great level of investment by member companies. From a timeline perspective, it covers processor product lines by silicon vendor: history, current, and future. And certainly you see a whole lineup of product lines for the both the 32-bit to 64-bit, as well as the commercial and the commercial licensable core.

What sort of specifications has released for Power ISA?

BEHMANN: One specification we have released is the Common Debug Interface, developed by member companies to help define different methods and impact the way of tracing and debugging based on embedded, as well as compute environments. Another specification is called Embedded Hypervisor. That defines the thin layer of the hypervisor that determines how to have multiple operating systems running over multiple cores and so on. We also have a specification called Virtual Platform, which enables software development before the availability of silicon.

These three areas and specifications tend to handle major achievements or core impact in terms of enablement, whereas things like our sPAPR specification have to do with rebooting devices. Also the ABI Documentation specification concerns the documentation related to the application binary interface. So sPAPR and ABI Documentation are more ancillary-type support and specifications.

Let’s talk trends. Android is everywhere these days. Is doing anything with Android?

BEHMANN: Yes, we had a showcase on Android activities and demonstrated that we had a special way of making it. Now we even have Android-based open source available to the developer community. We also have various initiatives in Android by Freescale [Android over MPC8536, Android over QorIQP1022, Android + MPC5521e, and Android + MPC5525] and IBM [Android over PowerPC460S, XGI (now SIS) Z11 graphics card, and AppliedMicro Canyonlands board] and third parties, which ported Android over Power Architecture.

What about cloud computing? That’s as much a water-cooler topic as Android these days.

BEHMANN: Yes, has also shown advancement in terms of a wireless network cloud system, through our research project based on [Software-Defined Radio]. That’s progressing actually from IBM Research in China.

But something else your audience might be interested in is IBM’s Watson computer, based on the Power7 processor within an optimized system running IBM DeepQA software developed by IBM. Watson, as you probably know, was featured on [the TV game show] “Jeopardy” and won the game, answering the questions in less than 3 seconds.

Interesting. So what are some of the other technical developments, such as with QorIQ, for example?

BEHMANN: Freescale has generated the QorIQ Qonverge basestation-on-a-chip, comprising the metro microcell, macro basestation, enterprise pico/femto, and home/SMB femto. One example of this is the PSC9130/31, a femtocell SoC solution. There’s also the PSC9132, a pico station. That solution is really an integration of not just Power Architecture, but also DSP, I/O, memory, switchback, and so on. And it provides a different type of scalability. Femto SoC accommodates 8-16 users, and pico and enterprise [products] accommodate up to 64 users.

What’s the different between pico and enterprise if they’re both up to 64 users?

BEHMANN: It’s a progression. For the enterprise, you could have a small enterprise, big enterprise, and so on. So you could have something 32, something 48, something 56, or whatever, all the way up to 64 users. So it’s really a mix between a medium to a larger type of cell.

Where do power considerations play into these basestations?

BEHMANN: In terms of pico versus macro, most of them are delivering lower cost and lower power – typically by almost 4x in both cases, except in macro the power is going down by 3x. The 3x and 4x comparison is for pico and macro versus discrete solutions. That’s really quite an important achievement to have that consolidation of basestations on a chip.

OK so wrapping up, any other achievements of

BEHMANN: If you have watched the news lately, you probably know that in terms of high-performance computing, two of the Top 10 and five of the Top 20 most powerful computers are based on Power Architecture. Included in these are the BlueGene/Q and also the BlueWater, which will be installed next year.

The Blue Gene/Q [supercomputer] is characterized by a 16-core chip and high performance and high efficiency. And it is about to reach 20 petaflops, so that’s really a great milestone. It was also ranked No. 1 from an energy management perspective [by Green500]. [Editor’s note: Blue Gene/Q was also ranked No. 1 on the list of the world’s fastest supercomputers for six years in a row (see]. It uses Power7, which has policy-based energy management capabilities.

What does the road map for Blue Gene look like, then?

BEHMANN: We have gone from 596 teraflops in 2004 [with Blue Gene/L] to 1 petaflop in 2008 with Blue Gene/P. And now with Blue Gene/Q, as I mentioned, we are reaching 20 petaflops. So we feel that has great potential for even more differentiation.

Fawzi Behmann is Director of Marketing and Strategic Advisor for 512-733-2418


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