Rolling Thunder Rollout for Power7 Processors Next Year
October 26, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from readers of The Four Hundred about the timing and configuration of entry Power Systems servers based on the future Power7 processors. People are not only worried about when the entry machines are going to be available and what their configurations might look like, but like me, your peers out there in AS/400 Land are more than a little bit worried that IBM might somehow not put the i operating system on the entry Power7 boxes, even as it does put AIX and Linux on them.
I haven’t heard anything from inside Big Blue that would confirm any such talk, but I do know that more than 95 percent of the OS/400 and i customer base can satisfy their current computing needs with a Power 520 box with one or two Power6 or Power6+ cores, so doubling up the performance does not necessarily get IBM anything, or its customers for that matter, unless IBM can convince a lot of shops to ditch Windows for Linux and move Windows infrastructure work to logical partitions running on Power iron.
If I were IBM, and I wanted to bolster the Power Systems i business, this is precisely what I would be focusing on. If I had to run the Windows applications in emulation mode, I would do that, too. Or, maybe I would simply license Windows 2008 and port it to Power iron and be done with it. Or maybe I would be putting Opteron processors on the same system board as Power6+ processors so Windows could run on the boxes themselves. All I do know for sure is this: I would be doing something differently than IBM’s current plan, which is to let Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Fujitsu target OS/400 and i shops, surrounding them with non-Blue x64 iron and then start talking about how the iSeries, System i, or Power Systems i server is the real problem in the data center.
Back in September, I gave you the lowdown on the packaging that IBM would be using for the Power7 chips, and the information is still not complete. But it looks like four-core and maybe six-core Power7 chips, with somewhat crimped memory and I/O, will be available in rack, tower, and blade servers with one or two sockets. Midrange and high-end servers will get chips with six or eight cores, and spanning up to as many as 32 processor sockets in a single system image.
IBM has not said much about when the Power7 machines would make their debut, but Mark Loughridge, the company’s chief financial officer, gave Wall Street a pep speech about future servers to get them excited about next year’s potential rebound in system sales.
“Our 45 nanometer technology was sold out in the quarter,” Loughridge said, referring to the chip making plant that IBM has in East Fishkill, New York. This is where the Power line of chips as well as IBM’s mainframe engines and its most sophisticated Power processors (such as the Cell and Xenon chips used in game consoles) are etched onto silicon and cut into chips. “When you look at the broader demand for our 45nm technology, we are building Power7 now, and are on track for our systems launch in the first half of 2010. We have strong yields, in fact we are running five months ahead of our 65nm ramp. So this is going very well.”
Loughridge then went on to say that IBM would be staging the Power7 rollout over the course of 2010, with the chip coming in high-end systems, and midrange boxes, and then he quickly added, almost as an afterthought, that it would be in entry systems, too. I wouldn’t read too much into what Loughridge talked about systems getting the Power7 chips. He added that IBM would be putting new System z mainframes into the field next year, too.
Ian Bramley, who is the managing director at Software Strategies, a British IT consultancy, scattered some roadmap stuff into a recent report, entitled System z10 vs. HP Integrity, No Contest. (You can get that report here right off IBM’s own Web site, which presumably lends some credence to what Bramley is saying.) Bramley is claiming that the first Power7-based machines are due to be announced at the end of the first quarter of 2010, and that the System z11 mainframe systems, sporting revved up quad-core z engines, running at around 5 GHz (thanks to a shrink to 45 nanometer processes) and adding more threads per core, are due late in the third quarter of 2010. Bramley suggests that the Power 595 will be getting the Power7 chips first.
This is a different order from past IBM announcements. Power6 and Power6+ chips appeared in midrange boxes first, then low-end boxes, then high-end boxes. In fact, the Power6+ chips never made it into high-end Power 595 boxes. It will be interesting to see if this turns out to be the announcement order. I will keep my ear to the ground for you. Let me know if you hear anything.