IBM Rounds Out Entry Power7 Server Lineup
August 17, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Today, as expected, the AS/400, iSeries, and System i customer base is finally getting some machinery that is better suited to their needs and budgets than the larger Power7 rack and tower systems that IBM announced in February. And, given how relatively few OS/400 and IBM i shops deploy blade servers, the new Power 710, 720, 730, and 740 machines that debut today are also going to be a better fit than the new BladeCenter PS700, PS701, and PS702 blades that came out in April.
As I have explained in past issues of The Four Hundred newsletter, IBM had not planned to make Power7 server announcements until May, following up in October, and the only low-end rack and tower machine expected was the Power 720, a kicker to the current Power 520 machine using Power6 and Power6+ processors. IBM has been listening to complaints that OS/400 and IBM i shops do not always need as much oomph as even a four-core Power 520 has, so moving up to a 16-core Power 720 box (as it was originally conceived) was overkill. And to its credit, not only did IBM move all of the Power7 server launches forward to get boxes in the field faster when processor yields allowed it, the company also took a little extra time and expanded the entry Power7 lineup to include machines with capacities more in line with those that are needed among entry and midrange shops.
The exact feeds, speeds, and pricing for the four new entry Power7-based Power Systems machines were not available as Four Hundred Stuff went to press, but Jeff Howard, director of marketing for IBM’s Power Systems division, gave us a preview of the boxes ahead of the formal launches today.
All four of the new entry Power7 machines come in so-called Express configurations, which means Big Blue gives customers a price break on processor activations if they buy pre-configured machines with an IBM-specified base configuration. Customers can add components to the Express boxes and still get the freebie processor activations, and it is important to note that the processor activations are for the core only; there is no Express price break on the processor feature card (which also has main memory slots in addition to the Power7 chip) or on operating system licenses that run on activated cores.
The four new Power Systems entry rack and tower servers can be equipped with processor feature cards that have four, six, or eight working cores per chip, with the others (or none, in the case of the eight-core model) being duds. No matter what processor feature they pick, customers can activate whatever latent working cores they have on their chips as needed. But be careful and do your capacity planning when you buy because once you buy a four-core processor card, you gave to buy another processor card with six or eight latent cores and then activate what you need if you outgrow four cores.
The first new machine, and one that was not part of the original Power7 lineup, is the Power 710. This machine is a 2U rack server that comes with a single Power7 chip, sporting four, six, or eight cores. The four-core variant runs at 3 GHz, the six-core variant runs at 3.7 GHz, and the eight-core variant runs at 3.55 GHz. There is no tower version of this server. The machine comes with a base 8 GB of main memory, and only scales up to a maximum of 64 GB. This box has four low-profile PCI-Express peripheral slots and one GX+ slot for attaching to external I/O drawers; it also has room for six 3.5-inch disk drives, which top out at a combined 1.8 TB of capacity.
The Power 730 takes the same 2U chassis and jams two processor cards into the box, keeping the same four PCI slots but adding another GX+ remote I/O slot. The processor features used in the Power 730 are a little different, in that there are four different options, with IBM also tossing in a four-core, 3.7 GHz feature card along with the other three cards used with the Power 710 server. Because there are two processor cards in the Power 730, main memory doubles up to 128 GB. Note: this machine comes with two processor cards; you don’t add one and then have the option of adding another one later. If you want to do that, you need to buy the Power 740.
The Power 720 comes in a 4U rack-mounted chassis and can be tipped on its side and given feet and a handle on the top to be a tower server that is suitable for office environments as the main server. The Power 720 does not have a wide variety of clock speeds, and just like the PS700, PS701, and PS702 blade servers. In fact, all of these machines have only the 3 GHz clock speed. Customers can pick a Power 720 processor card that has four, six, or eight working cores and activate them as needed. The four-core Power 720 processor card only goes up to 64 GB, but the six-core and eight-core cards can support up to 128 GB. The Power 720 chassis has four PCI-Express slots and an optional cage to add another four low-profile PCI-Express slots. The four-core version of the Power 720 does not have a GX+ remote I/O slot, but the six-core and eight-core variants do have a GX++ slot that can handle up to four I/O drawers. (Once again, be careful about which Power 720 model you pick.) The Power 720 has room for eight disk drives and tops out at 2.4 TB of capacity internally.
The Power 740 server looks like the original Power 720 that IBM intended to launch all along. It can be equipped with one or two processor cards. IBM is supporting a four-core, 3.3 GHz Power7 feature card as the base option on the Power 740 server. There is also a four-core, 3.7 GHz processor feature card and a 3.7 GHz, six-core feature card. If you want to use the eight-core, 3.55 GHz feature card, you have to buy two processor cards and install all 16 cores. The Power 740 supports from 8 GB to 256 GB of main memory, and while being essentially half of a Power 750 uses slightly faster processors. (This is what happens as IBM has moved seven months down the Power7 yield curve.) However, none of the processors used in the four entry Power7 boxes goes anywhere close to 4 GHz, and particularly for chips with all eight cores working. These chips are saved for the much more expensive Power 780 and Power 795 enterprise-class machines.
The Power 740 has the same peripheral options as the Power 720: four full-sized PCI-Express slots with an optional four more low-profile PCI-Express slots and eight disk drives topping out at a combined 2.4 TB. The Power 740 does have two GX++ remote I/O ports, however, which allows up to four PCI-Express I/O drawers to be attached to the machine, for a total of 416 external disk drives if customers need to add a lot of disks for performance or data storage reasons.
IBM did not yet have pricing information for the new Power7-based servers as we went to press, but Howard said that the entry Power 710 machine would cost around $6,500. All four models support i 6.1.1 and i 7.1 operating systems as well as AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1. (AIX 7.1 has been in beta testing for several months and is launched today.) Red Hat‘s Enterprise Linux 5.5 and Novell‘s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP3 and 11 SP1 are also supporting on the new entry Power Systems boxes.
All four machines will be available starting September 17. They come with a three-year hardware warranty, which is equivalent to what X64 server makers are giving these days, The low-end of the Power5 lineup had three-year warranties back in 2005, but with the Power6-based Power 520 and 550 entry machines, IBM dropped back to a one-year warranty, making these boxes less competitive but itself some more dough.
One last thing: the upgrade path that IBM was promising from Power 520 boxes to a future Power7-based entry machine is to the Power 720. There are no upgrade paths into the Power 710, 720, or 740, and I am not yet certain that there are upgrade paths between any of these machines or up to the Power 750, either. So, again, shop carefully and ask lots of questions.
Just a reminder: If you want to listen in to Power7 server announcements today, IBM is hosting two Webcasts, as follows:
We will be drilling down into the Power Systems announcements further in next week’s issues of The Four Hundred and Four Hundred Stuff.