Sundry October Power Systems Announcements
October 13, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Last week’s announcements for the Power Systems product line did not just have to do with the doubling up of core counts on Power 520, 550, and 570 servers plus the debut of the new Power 560 box. (See IBM Doubles the Cores on Midrange Power Systems also in this issue for more on that.) There were a bunch of other hardware and software announcements that are interesting to i shops.
First, there is a new processor option for the Power 550, which has been using 4.2 GHz Power6 cores until now for i Editions and AIX and Linux Editions. The processor card, feature 4695, has a single Power6 core running at 3.5 GHz and has a total of eight DIMM slots. (The fattest DIMMs are not supported on this card, which plugs into the unified i-p 8204 box, not the older i Edition 9409 boxes.) IBM warns that 3.5 GHz and 4.2 GHz processor cards cannot be mixed in the same machine, and that there are no conversions from one card to another; customers are further warned that buying a 4.2 GHz card is expensive, so customers have to pick carefully when they buy. A two-core Power 550 using the 3.5 GHz cores is rated at 7,750 Commercial Processing Workload (CPW) performance units, while the two-core card using the 4.2 GHz cores is rated at 9,200 CPWs. I’d tell you the price difference between the two cards if I knew; IBM has not said. (Don’t worry. I will find out soon.)
In addition to offering Power 570 boxes with processor cards that offer twice the core count of the previous Power 570s announced last year and tweaked earlier this year to converge the i and p server line (I talked about those in the lead story in this issue), IBM is also offering a new memory card, feature 5690, that can hold up to 32 GB of main memory DIMMs. The new cards supports 400 MHz DDR2 main memory, just like the existing feature 5696 card, which also spans up to 32 GB. I haven’t been able to ascertain why there is a new card, but I will look into it.
IBM has also updated the firmware in the Power 570 to allow hot node repair. What this means, in plain English, is that if you have a box with latent cores inside of it that has, say, eight cores activated in a machine with 16 or 32 cores, then you can take one of the chassis nodes in the Power 570 (which has from one to four nodes in its SMP setup) offline to repair it and activate some of the latent cores in the other nodes so your workloads don’t see a decrease in the node count. You need at least two chassis for this hot node repair thing to work, and you can’t take the primary node offline. IBM has already delivered hot node add–meaning you can add a new node to the SMP without taking it offline first–and cold node repair–meaning you can take a node offline but sacrifice its processing capacity. The Power 595 machines are getting hot node add and hot node repair support, too. IBM is also now allowing come DDR2 main memory features that worked with Power5 and Power5+ System i 595 machines to work in Power 595 boxes. IBM has had to put out a new 5 GHz processor book (feature 4705) to allow it to support 64 GB memory cards; the existing feature 4695 card cannot support 64 GB memory, as IBM had expected. The explanation, so I hear, is that IBM needed to add direct current adapters to the new processor card to support the fatter memory. The 64 GB memory support requires a firmware update, too.
Finally, there is a new 450 GB SAS drive for the Power Systems boxes, which spins at 15K RPM and which has a 3.5-inch form factor. For AIX and Linux machines, this disk has a 450 GB format and is feature 3649; for i boxes, it has a 428 GB format and it is feature 3658. The fatter drive requires i 6.1 if it is going to be used as a load source, but is otherwise supported on i5/OS V5R4 and i 6.1. The disk can attach to the integrated SAS controllers on Power 520, 550, 560, and 570 servers and also links to the feature 5912 SAS controller (which has no write cache on it, you’ll remember). On AIX and Linux boxes, this drive (as feature 3659) will hook to the feature 5902 RAID 5/6 SAS disk controller; it supports AIX 5.3 or AIX 6.1.
One more thing, and this is about something that is missing from the October announcements. While IBM’s Website, which the company’s top brass referred me to for pricing on all the new iron when I asked about it, had pricing for AIX and Linux configurations, once again Big Blue is sitting on its i platform price list. The price of the entry Power 520 with a single 4.2 GHz Power6 core, 2 GB of memory, and two 73.4 GB disks is online. Which is good. You can even buy it right there online, like all modern computer makers allow customers to do. Ditto for the JS12 and JS22 blades, or the BladeCenter S chassis with a JS12 or a JS22 blade in it, which had all prices. Hooray! But if you want to buy any other Power Systems i boxes, or just find out their prices online, well, forget you.
I understand why IBM doesn’t want to publish mainframe prices, because they are ludicrous even if they are ultimately worth the money to mainframe shops who know how to get 99 percent utilization out of their applications. I understand why the Power 575 supercomputing node doesn’t have a list price online, either, since people buy lots of these nodes on a special bid basis. But anything above a Power 560 doesn’t have a price even with AIX or Linux, and nothing above that baby Power 520 has a price running i5/OS V5R4 or i 6.1. If you are trying to sell computers to small and medium businesses that browse company Websites before they even make a call to a reseller or a vendor to start a deal, you can’t hide your prices. That pretty much says to the customer: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
Now, how is that supposed to help Power Systems i sales?