Power Iron Gets New Storage And Networking
April 30, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
April showers have tended to bring April AS/400 announcements of one sort or another, and here we are again in another April and indeed IBM is making enhancements to its midrange platform in the areas of networking and storage.
Some of the new features in announcement letter 112-069 will work in conjunction with the IBM i operating system, while some will not–even if you are using the Virtual I/O Server (VIOS) as the driver stack between PowerVM logical partitions running IBM i and the new iron. I’ll walk you through all the new features so you know which ones to tell IBM to get in gear and write some IBM i drivers for.
Features ESA1 (full height) and ESA2 (low profile) are dual-port SAS RAID adapters that plug into PCI-Express 2.0 slots (and hence are designed for the Power7 Gen 2 boxes that Big Blue put out last October. These two adapters support 6 Gb/sec SAS links, have RAID mirroring across the two ports on the adapter, and, unlike the feature 5913 and 5888 adapters, do not have write cache and are only designed for control freaking solid state drives (SSDs). By taking off the write cache and its battery backup, IBM can make this SAS controller small enough to fit in low-profile slots. In a sense, the flash drive is its own write cache since it is so much faster than a disk drive, and hence it is silly to put cache on the front of an SSD. These features are supported in the revamped Power 710, 720, 730, 740, 770, and 780 machines that came out last October. These new SAS SSD-only adapters are supported by AIX 5.3 or later, IBM i 6.1 or 7.1, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.8 or later, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP4 or 11 SP2, or VIOS 126.96.36.199 or later. An IBM i connection through VIOS is not supported. The feature ESA1 and ESA2 controllers cost $6,200.
IBM has also doubled up the capacity on its enterprise multi-level cell (eMLC) flash SSDs with a new 387 GB unit that goes by the features ES0A, ES0B, ES0C, and ESOD depending on which Power Systems machine you plug it into and what operating system you format it for. The new SSD drives can be used in any Power7-based machine, Gen 1, Gen 1.5, or Gen 2, but IBM warns that it has not been tested to work with Power6 and Power6+ servers. (Ah, how long before someone tries this?) The 387 GB drive is supported on the following SAS controllers: The new ESA1 and ESA2 SAS adapters above; the feature 5805 and 5903 PCI Express 1.0 380 MB cache SAS RAID adapter; the feature 5913 PCIe 2.0 1.8 GB cache RAID SAS adapter; and the feature 5904, 5906, and 5908 PCI-X DDR 1.5 GB cache SAS RAID adapter. Regardless of operating system, this 387 GB SSD costs $6,200. The same operating systems that support the new SAS SSD controller support the new 387 GB SSD.
IBM also has a new EXP30 Ultra SSD I/O drawer (feature 5888), which pack two SAS controllers and 30 1.8-inch 387 GB SSDs (feature ES02 and also based on eMLC technology like the features above) into the 1U rack, for a total of 11.6 TB of capacity and over 400,000 aggregate I/O operations per second (IOPS, in the storage lingo). The EXP30 drawer attaches directly to the GX++ slots in Power 710, 720, 730, and 740 machines. The EXP30 drawer costs $24,500 and each of those 1.8-inch SSDs cost $6,100. That’s $207,500 fully loaded for that whopping amount of storage bandwidth. And sorry, IBM i customers, but you can’t have one even if you can find the budget. AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1 are supported, as is RHEL 5.8 and higher and SLES 11 SP2. Interestingly, you can hooks the EXP30 drawer, which has two GX++ pipes, to two different Power7 servers and use PowerHA to do failover across the servers.
IBM plans to allow for a pair of feature 5887 EXP24S expansion drawers to be hung off the EXP30 drawer. The EXP24S has room for 48 of those 1.8-inch SSDs and takes up 2U of space, and with this expansion, IBM will be about to put 40 TB of flash disk capacity into 5U of rack space and serve up an aggregate of around 1.7 million IOPS. IBM also said that it plans to make its EasyTier storage tiering software available on machines running AIX and VIOS, so they can spread data over the EXP30 and EXP24S drawers with SSDs.
On the networking front, there a new and cheaper four port Gigabit Ethernet adapter: features 5260, which is low profile, and feature 5899, which is full height. This will be the new default Ethernet adapter in the Power7 Gen 2 models of the Power 710, 720, 730, and 740 announced last October, says IBM. These features have the same price: $301.
There’s also a new PCI-Express 2.0 four-port Fibre Channel SAN adapter (feature EN0Y) that fits into an x8 slot in the Gen 2 servers and that is a low-profile version of the feature 5729 full-height adapter that was announced in October 2011. AIX, Linux, and VIOS all support this adapter natively, but IBM i shops can only hook in through VIOS. Feature EN0Y costs $6,000.
Feature EU16 is a DAT160 tape drive that links to Power Systems machines through a USB port. Normally, a DAT drive hangs off a SAS controller, and this can lead to contention. So now you can hang the tape off an internal USB port. Feature EU16 can cram 80 GB on a digital audio tape or 160 GB with normal compress rations; it costs $1,827. Again, AIX, Linux, and VIOS support it natively, but IBM i can only see it through VIOS.
IBM has also put out an RDX 320 GB removable disk drive, which links to Power6, Power6+, and Power7 servers through a USB port. This costs a mere $225 and is a viable option to a DAT drive, but unfortunately feature EU08 is not supported by IBM i, not even working through VIOS. (This is just plain silly, really.) The fact that IBM is not supporting IBM i on the feature EC27 and EC28 Ethernet adapters, which have been tweaked to run the Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) protocol from InfiniBand atop Ethernet cards (using a protocol called RoCE, which is short for RDMA over Converged Ethernet), does not bother me in the slightest. Unless these would be useful creating DB2 Multisystem clusters running IBM i. (Which I suspect they would, so there.) These adapters cost $1,000 and are mainly useful for Power Systems shops that need servers to talk to both Ethernet and InfiniBand networks.
Finally, IBM put out some statements of direction. This will come as no surprise to anyone, but the Power7 generation of machines (by which I presume IBM means Power7 Gen 1, Gen 1.5, and Gen 2 machines using the official TPM designations and not impending Power7+ boxes) will be the last boxes that support PCI-X adapters and I/O drawers. And the next version of IBM i following 7.1 will not support HSL/RIO-attached I/O drawers on Power6 or Power6+ machines.