Power6 Blades Finally Come to Market from IBM
November 12, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
After something close to six years of waiting, customers who are used to supporting applications on full-blown Power processors from IBM are finally getting an enterprise-grade blade server for Big Blue’s BladeCenter chassis. As previously divulged in this newsletter months ago, IBM last week has indeed launched the JS22 blade server, which crams two dual-core Power6 processors onto a single board and which supports AIX and Linux. The JS22 blade will support the i5/OS operating system early in 2008.
IBM was rumored to be working on two Power6-based BladeCenter machines, one called the JS22 and the other called the JS12. A few months ago, I conjectured that the names might mean the JS22 had a single socket with two Power6 cores activated and the JS12, if such a machine existed at all, might have a single socket with one Power6 core turned on. As it turns out, the JS22 blade server will provide a lot more oomph than expected, in that it ships with two dual-core Power6 chips, with all four cores running at 4 GHz. IBM did not announce a JS12 blade last week, and when I asked about it, Scott Handy, vice president of marketing and strategy for IBM’s Power Systems division, was as quiet as corn growing under the July sun.
The JS22 blade uses two Power6 single chip modules, or SCMs, and they are wired directly onto the blade rather than being linked at the chip level, as is the case in multichip module (MCM) configurations in IBM’s larger System p and System i Power-based servers. The blades do not use IBM’s quad-core module (QCM) approach, either, which takes two slightly slower dual-core chips and puts them in the same ceramic package so they can share a single CPU socket. Each Power6 core in the JS22 has 64 KB of instruction and 32 KB of data L1 cache memory, and each core has its own 4 MB L2 cache as well. The cores have their own dedicated VMX vector math and decimal math units (the latter being a new technology with the Power6 chips and the first commercial implementation of the idea to date). The Power6 chip has an integrated main memory controller, and this particular iteration of the chip can support up to four DDR2 DIMMs per core, yielding a maximum main memory of 32 GB for the blade. The blade also has room for one 73 GB or 146 GB 2.5-inch SAS disk if customers want to have a local operating system image in the blade, as well as daughter cards that plug into the blade for Fibre Channel and iSCSI links to outside storage. The blade also has two integrated Gigabit Ethernet ports.
According to Handy, IBM is splitting the Advanced Power Virtualization hypervisor that runs on its Power-based servers into two different products with this round of Power server announcements and the delivery of AIX 6.1, which happened last Friday. APV Standard Edition is the regular hypervisor IBM has been shipping for years, and APV Enterprise Edition is the hypervisor that provides the Live Partition Mobility feature that is new with the Power6 iron and which is supported on AIX 5.3, AIX 6.1, Linux, and maybe i5/OS at some point in the future. Live Partition Mobility allows a running logical partition–including its operating system and applications–to be transported from one physical machine to another one, thereby allowing customers to have new kinds of disaster recovery plans and to virtually eliminate application downtime even as they have to patch software and upgrade hardware. Because IBM wants to pitch the JS22 blades as a consolidation play against Linux on X64 servers and competitor’s Unix boxes, the blades are getting the APV Standard Edition bundled on for free, which normally would cost $309 per Power6 core.
The JS22 blade plugs into the current BladeCenter H chassis, and all 14 blades in that box can be Power6 blades as well as mixed with Xeon, Opteron, Cell, and PowerPC blades. Customers using the BladeCenter HT chassis (mostly service providers and telecommunications companies) can only have five of the 10 blades in the box be JS22 blades. The new Power6 blade will also be available in the BladeCenter S blade chassis, which is a smaller box aimed at small and medium businesses.
The new blade server supports IBM AIX 5.3 and AIX 6.1 Unix variants, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.6 and 5.1, or Novell SUSE Enterprise Linux Server 10 SP1 Update 1 (this update is only available by special order from IBM and Novell). IBM issued a statement of direction that i5/OS would be supported on the JS22 blade in 2008, but the expectation is that IBM will deliver support for i5/OS V6R1 in February or March, and possibly cast back to i5/OS V5R4M5, which also supports Power6 processors in a limited fashion.
The base JS22 chassis has four 4 GHz cores (with all of them activated), 8 GB of main memory, and no disk drive; it has a list price of $6,699 and will be generally available on November 30.
IBM is pretty keyed up to push the JS22 blade to supercomputer customers, who are sometimes keen on blade designs because of the density, integration, and systems administration features they have. But Handy says that the move from rack servers to blade servers–particularly from those rack machines running Solaris and HP-UX, but also sometimes its own AIX shops–is going to be a big draw for the new blades.
“There is going to be a lot of demand for the JS22,” says Handy. “We will sell all that we can make in the fourth quarter, even without i5/OS support.”
IBM will be pitching the JS22 pretty hard at Sun shops, many of which have lots of rack servers and might be a little perplexed by the Sun Blade 8000 blade servers, which are different from other blade designs. “We are not so worried about Sun’s blades, since putting 10 blades in 10U of space is not impressive,” Handy says. “And my sales guys say they have never engaged against an Itanium blade in the field.”
IBM did some math to show that it could take 23 racks of Sun’s V490 servers running at 20 percent of CPU capacity and consolidate it down to four chasses, each with 14 JS22 blades, running at 60 percent utilization in a virtualized environment and still get the same amount of work done–and save $210,000 in power and cooling costs. “That alone would pay for the JS22 blades over a three-year period.”
The combination of the BladeCenter S chassis, which is smaller, quieter, and designed more for the office environment than the other BladeCenter boxes, is probably going to play better in the System i server space. And so, too, would something like a JS12 blade with only two Power cores activated instead of four. The vast majority of IBM’s System i shipments for System i machines based on the less powerful Power5 and Power5+ processors were for boxes with only one or two cores activated, and for the small and medium businesses that like i5/OS and its predecessor, OS/400, a four-core Power6 box is too much machine to run the back office applications that are generally coded in RPG. IBM will undoubtedly support i5/OS on the JS22 and the JS12, if such a thing exists, but it will probably sell a lot more JS12 blades to these customers unless they suddenly want to port their Windows infrastructure workloads to Linux partitions on bladed machines. Thus far, only a minority of shops have done this. Whether IBM likes it or not, generally speaking, i5/OS and OS/400 shops have a lot more Windows iron than Power iron, even if they prefer their venerable midrange gear.