More Details Emerge on IBM’s Upcoming Power6 Server Launch
April 30, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
IBM, like most other server makers, doesn’t like to talk about upcoming product launches because such talk can have an adverse effect on sales in the current quarter. That’s one of the reasons why Big Blue is not talking about its upcoming Power6 server launch, and it is also why the company has done nothing to confirm or deny some of the rumors that are running around about Power6 being delayed. But if some of the sources I have heard from are right, then the Power6 launch is imminent.
Last week, I took a look at the rumors swirling around about the Power6 chip and its systems. Some rumors say Power6 will be delayed, and others that I am now hearing say IBM will crimp the clock speed back to 3.3 GHz or 3.5 GHz except for the machines that get sent to the big supercomputing laboratories operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. I have no confirmation of these new rumors, but IBM is expected to deliver a range of Power6 processors that span as low as 3 GHz and as high as 5 GHz over the two-year span of the product, which includes a Power6+ kicker. And given that this is a new chip architecture, it is possible that IBM cannot initially get the clock speeds as high as it wants with Power6. As I pointed out last week, this certainly happened with Power5 and Power5+, which were supposed to start at around 1.5 GHz and blow through 2.5 GHz and on up through 3 GHz and higher, but which have crested at 2.3 GHz.
Two independent sources, reading last week’s story, sent me the same rumors that they are now hearing about Power6, which is that the chip and its systems will be launched sometime in late May for a June or July delivery. (One was specific enough to say that the launch would be at the Mohegan Sun resort in Connecticut, but that could just be a regional sales event for all I know.) Given this timing, which is toward the end of the second quarter when IBM doesn’t want to be telling people to wait for new systems, just mentioning this rumor is going to give the salespeople at Big Blue apoplexy. But, IT Jungle works for the user community, not IBM. One source says the launch is in May with initial shipments in June, and said further that his IBM salesman said the Power6 clocks would hit 4.5 GHz in these machines. (Obviously, they can also be lower.)
With sales in the United States among enterprises falling off dramatically in March for both IBM and Sun Microsystems, IBM may be thinking that it is time to get the new Power6 boxes launched so it can prime the pumps for the third and fourth quarter. With Hewlett-Packard, Sun, and Fujitsu-Siemens all shipping midrange and high-end systems that can give Power5+ machines a serious run for the money, IBM needs to get its lead back in performance and bang for the buck as fast as it can.
A kind soul at one of the supercomputer labs gave me some hints about what the Power6 machines might look like, too, but this information is based on a presentation IBM gave at the end of last year; another source gave an updated presentation from only two months ago in 2007 that has the same information in it. In those presentations, there is a Power6 box called HV8 that that crams eight Power6 cores in a single 4U chassis, replacing the p5 550 and 550Q machines, which have two sockets and which can use Power5+ dual-core module (DCM) or quad-core module (QCM) packaging to deliver four or eight cores of processing power. Presumably this Power6 HV8 box is a four-socket box using DCMs, since the Power6+ kicker will have double the number of cores and will presumably do this by moving to QCMs. And both of these presentations clearly show that the initial Power6 chips in this box will run at 4 GHz or higher and that the Power6+ variant of this box will have clock speeds under 4 GHz. To make a QCM, you put two dual-core chips side-by-side and slow it down a little. So this follows.
Moving up the line is a Power6 box called IH, which will come in 16-core and 32-core variants with Power6 chips running at 4 GHz and higher. IBM will have some kind of water-cooling jackets on this puppy to keep it from overheating in the supercomputer labs. Rather than put QCMs in this box for the Power6+ generation, IBM will instead crank up the clock speed on the cores with the Power6+ chips, if this roadmap is still in effect.
The big, bad Power6 box, which was not given a code name, has up to 64 of the Power6 cores and will run at 4 GHz and higher. And with the Power6+ generation, IBM is expected to double the number of cores in the box to 128 to boost performance. It is unclear how IBM will do this. It could double the number of chips in the high-end multichip module (MCM) used in the biggest System p and System i servers, or it could double up the number of system boards.
With the Power7 generation, expected in 2010, IBM will once again double the core count in its servers, which seems to imply that Power7 will be a quad-core chip, not a dual-core chip like Power4, Power5, and Power6 were. The clock speeds on Power7 are expected to stay in the same 4 GHz and higher range, which means IBM can use the circuit shrinking that is enabled through improvements in chip fabrication to add more cores to the chip. This is the same tactic that Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are using as they move to true quad-core chips and they will continue it as they move further to octo-core designs.
All of these Power6 servers will support PCI-Express (also known as PCIe) peripherals, which provides a lot more bandwidth than the current PCI-X peripherals. IBM is also supporting the next generation of InfiniBand interconnect to lash servers together, and on the midrange Power6 IH systems, it will still support its “Federation” High Performance Switch interconnect.
There has been very little information about how entry Power6 servers might look like, and that is where most i5/OS and OS/400 shops will be interested. I’ll find out what I can, and keep you posted.