IBM Upgrades High-End System i5 Servers
April 16, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The rumor mill panned out on this one. Two months ago, I told you that I was hearing that IBM was considering upgrading its high-end System i5 595 server with its fastest Power5+ processors, and that has indeed come to pass. In addition to upgrading the i5 595 processors, the company has also tweaked its i5/OS pricing on the midrange i5 550 and 570 servers as well as on the 595 box to make it more amenable and economical to use i5/OS as an application serving platform.
The move to the 2.3 GHz cores in the Power5+ multichip module is no big surprise, particularly since IBM is not yet shipping the Power6 processors. If there is one thing IBM learned decades ago, it was that you can’t leave customers hitting the ceiling, as those who chose the System/38 platform did when IBM didn’t upgrade their performance fast enough; the same thing happened again with the initial B Series AS/400s announced in 1988, but IBM reacted reasonably fast with the B70 kicker to the B60. (While I am thinking about it, I never noticed there was no A Series of AS/400s, but that is probably because the Burroughs half of Unisys had A Series mainframes.) Anyway, there is no way IBM can wait until next year or even later this year to give its top-end i5/OS shops some extra processing capacity.
IBM has already delivered the 2.3 GHz Power5+ MCMs in the System p5 AIX server line at the end of July last year. The Power5 and Power5+ MCMs pack four dual-core processors and four 36 MB L3 caches (one for each chip) into a single chip package. Because of the denser packaging of the chips in an MCM and the thermally sophisticated packaging itself, an MCM using Power processors has generally run at a faster speed than a single chip package of the same processor cores. So while the Power5 chips were running at 1.5 GHz and 1.65 GHz in entry machines, the MCM variants could run at 1.65 GHz and 1.9 GHz. Similarly, the single chip Power5+ processors ran at 1.9 GHz and 2.1 GHz, but the Power5+ MCMs ran at 2.1 GHz and 2.3 GHz. The pSeries and System p5 Unix server lines included a 16-socket machine, the p5 590, and a 32-socket machine, the p5 595.
When the i5 595 was announced in October 2004, IBM didn’t offer a 16-socket version, but rather only shipped the 32-socket variant and only used the top-end 1.9 GHz Power5 MCM part. This machine was offered with a base eight cores activated, and customers who needed more power could upgrade to a machine with 16 or 32 cores activated and then activate individual cores above the eight, 16, or 32 in the base machine to reach a maximum of 16, 32, or 64 cores activated as they needed. With the upgraded i5 595 machine announced last week, IBM is once again not shipping a 16-socket box and is merely upgrading the MCMs to the fastest 2.3 GHz Power5+ chips.
The 64-core i5 595 using the 1.9 GHz Power5 chips is rated at 184,000 CPWs of online transaction processing performance, and the i5 595 using the 2.3 GHz Power5+ cores is rated at 216,000 CPWs. That is a 17 percent increase in raw throughput, and a tad bit lower than I expected. (Based on clock speed alone, you would expect the new i5 595 to do about 222,750 CPWs, or about 23 percent more work than the existing i5 595.)
Ian Jarman, product marketing manager for the System i line at IBM, says that the company has already shipped a number of these i5 595 upgraded machines to customers. But the box will not be officially available until April 20.
The new i5 595 machine comes in the same 8/16-way, 16/32-way, and 32/64-way configurations that the prior i5 595 did. The 8/16-way machine is rated at between 31,500 and 58,800 CPWs, and it is in the P50 software tier. The 32/64-way machine is rated at between 108,000 and 216,000 CPWs, and is in the P60 software tier. The base 8/16-way box configured with i5/OS Standard Edition (which cannot support 5250 green-screen workloads written in RPG and COBOL) costs $745,000, while the base 32/64-way box costs just under $1.795 million. With i5/OS Enterprise Edition, which has unlimited 5250 processing capacity, the 8/16-way configuration costs $1.525 million and the 32/64-way box costs $2.675 million. It costs $59,000 to add i5/OS to an activated core and it costs $31,800 to activate a Power5+ core on this machine. The 16/32-way machine is rated at between 61,000 and 108,000 CPWs, and it is in the P50 software tier.
The new i5 595 is also available in two different Capacity BackUp (CBU) configurations for high availability clustering against production systems. The 2/16-way i5 595 CBU has two cores activated and can be expanded to 16, as the name suggests; it costs $475,000. The 4/32-way i5 595 CBU costs $720,000.
The new i5 595 requires i5/OS V5R4, the current release, and will not support OS/400 V5R3, the prior release. iSeries 825, 870 and 890 servers as well as i5 570 and 595 servers can be upgraded to the faster i5 595 box. Jarman warns that upgrades from the iSeries 810 and 825 will be withdrawn from marketing on December 1, and that upgrades from the iSeries 870 and 890 will only be available until April 1, 2008.
While IBM did not make any changes in the midrange i5 550 and 570 lines in terms of hardware, it did make one important change for i5/OS software configuration and pricing that affects these machines as well as the i5 595. Starting this week, IBM will now offer customers something called i5/OS Application Server, which is basically the normal i5/OS V5R4 license with access to the integrated DB2/400 database that has been at the heart of OS/400 and i5/OS blocked. Why would IBM do this? So customers who want to deploy application servers on the i5 line do not have to pay for a database they are not using.
In most n-tier ERP applications, not every server–whether it is a physical box or a logical partition–runs the database. Some servers are just for running application servers or infrastructure workloads. By having DB2/400 bundled into every Power processor core activation and its related i5/OS license, this has obviously been a big hindrance to the OS/400 and i5/OS platform. OS/400 and i5/OS licenses are not cheap, and that has compelled many customers to shift their application workloads off their midrange boxes and usually off to Windows machines. This cuts exactly against IBM’s themes of server consolidation and infrastructure simplification, and makes n-tier applications prohibitively expensive on the i5/OS platform. So now, customers can deploy i5/OS Application Server, which is a Standard Edition license with DB2/400 blocked but with the ability to use i5/OS’s Virtual LAN capability to talk across partitions to those equipped with DB2/400.
On an i5 550, it costs $41,000 to activate an i5/OS license that includes DB2/400 on a Power core, but it only costs $14,000 to turn on i5/OS Application Server on each core. On an i5 570 and i5 595, it costs $59,000 to activate regular i5/OS licenses, but the Application Server edition only costs $19,000. The Application Server license does not include PHP, Domino, or the full WebSphere application server, incidentally. But every i5 machine ships with WebSphere Express on it. i5/OS Application Server has to be running in partitions that are separate from the base i5/OS Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition licenses that come with a System i box.