A Little Insight Into the Rest of the Power7 Lineup
February 15, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As part of the rollout of the first wave of Power7-based Power Systems servers last week, IBM provided a little insight–and mind you, I did not say a lot of insight–about what the future entry and high-end products would look like. As usual, Big Blue issued some statements of direction concerning these bookends of the Power Systems lineup, and as usual, they didn’t really say enough to help customers make plans.
If you are expecting IBM to say a lot more about the high-end of the product line than it already has, you did get a few more morsels of data. In announcement letter 110-051, the company issued an SOD that sometime in 2010 it would put out a Power7 system with up to 256 cores offering “unprecedented” scalability combined with massive bandwidth to allow “enterprises to more effectively deploy and consolidate large-scale applications and infrastructure.”
Like other Power7 machines, the kicker to the Power 595–and there is every reason to believe it will be called the Power 795–will operate in the same thermal envelope as its Power6 and Power6+ predecessors. This will dramatically improve high-end performance per watt and performance per square foot. Like many of you, I had been guessing the Power 795 would weigh in at 256 cores, mainly because using the same basic server architecture of eight processor books and four processor sockets per book as used in the Power 595 leads you to 256 cores, with a total of 1,024 threads. As I estimated back in January in The System iWant, 2010 Edition: Big Boxes, even clocking this machine down to 3 GHz could result in a box with something like 600,000 CPWs of DB2/400-style OLTP performance. I made that guess before I realized what a dramatic effect the integrated embedded DRAM (eDRAM) L3 cache memory would have, and it is likely that such a machine could, in theory, hit 800,000 CPWs, as I speculated late last year after seeing the “Blue Waters” Power7 IH supercomputer node at the SC09 supercomputing trade show.
I have no idea if IBM is tweaking the DB2 for i database and the i/OS operating system to scale across that many cores and threads. I hope so, but I am doubtful this has happened unless there are more than a handful of customers begging for more scalability and willing to pay for such development. Even with i 6.1, the operating system and database could only scale across 32 cores and 64 threads, and there is nothing in the i 6.1.1 release or the limited specs I have seen for i 7.1 that would suggest either of these will scale beyond current limits. All I can say is, they damned well ought to. Anything Linux or AIX can do with DB2, then i/OS should be able to do with DB2 for i. Period.
In the Power 595 kicker SOD, IBM did add another two pieces of data beyond reminding everyone that customers with Power 570 and Power 595 machines were already told last summer that they would have an upgrade path to new machines. One new bit of data is that the future Power 795 will have high voltage DC power inputs, which means they can plug right into the raw power distribution of the data center instead of having their voltages stepped down by power distribution and UPS units, thereby improving the overall energy efficiency of the data center that uses these machines. IBM also said that the PowerVM’s Live Partition Mobility feature, which allows for whole running AIX or Linux logical partitions to be transported from one physical machine to another so long as they are connected by a storage area network, can be used to do upgrades from Power6-based Power 595s to Power7-based Power 795s.
This Live Partition Mobility feature debuted first on AIX, and in the wake of the Power Systems convergence two years ago, was slated to be ported to i/OS. Then, IBM changed its mind. So i/OS shops are going to have to do upgrades to the hard ware, it looks like. Hey, but at least you pay the same price as the System p shops for memory and disks now, right? That’s parity of a sort.
As for the entry Power7 boxes, IBM didn’t say much. In announcement letter 110-014, IBM said that in 2010 it would provide upgrade paths from Power6 and Power6+ machines (well, it didn’t actually say Power6+ because IBM likes to pretend there never was a Power6+ when there was, but that is another story) in the Power 520 family to the Power7 entry systems. These upgrade paths will be available for two-core and four-core variants of the Power 520s–meaning the 8203-EA4 variants of the machines that were sold as System p products before and after the convergence. It apparently does not apply to earlier Power 520 machines that had System i labels, but these could be laterally “side-graded” to the 8203-EA4 machines if you wanted to go through the trouble.
According to business partners who have been briefed by Big Blue, these upgrades looked more like side-grades than not. IBM has warned them that in the jump from Power5-based Power 520 boxes to the Power6-based machines (including their plus processor variants), these upgrades “did not have savings in the hardware,” but were more about easy license transfers (including the i/OS operating system) and a means to tweak a lease or depreciate the iron as other features were added to the box as it was side-graded.
That doesn’t sound like a barn burner to me. I expect IBM will be talking about how the Power 720, as these machines will probably be called, and maybe even the Power 710s and 730s if IBM really gets creative, will be offering different price points and packaging that offers a lot more bang for the buck than current iron. There is no doubt in my mind that Big Blue will talk about how maintaining an old vintage iSeries or System i box is more expensive than financing a new Power 720.
IBM has not said anything about its plans–or lack thereof–for upgrades for its Power-based blade servers or for the Power 550 and Power 560 midrange machines.