IBM Carves Out Upgrade Paths To New Power7+ Systems
October 15, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It was not a foregone conclusion that there would be upgrades available from Power6 and Power6+ systems to Power7+ machines, although many of us were guessing that there would be upgrades between the Power7 iron to Power7+ machinery. As it turns out, IBM is being pretty generous with its upgrade policy, or at least as generous as it can be within the confines of the very strict accounting rules that govern upgrades and the preservation of serial numbers on IT gear.
You may not be aware of it, but there are in fact accounting rules that stipulate how much of a machine can change before you have to call it a new system and therefore fully depreciate the investment in the original gear. This is why you don’t have the same serial number on your current Power Systems-IBM i machine that you had when you acquired an AS/400 decades ago. The Power7+ chips, which made its debut on October 3 in the Power 770+ and Power 780+ enterprise-class servers, are socket compatible with the existing Power 770 and 780 servers and are virtually indistinguishable from the upgraded versions of those Power7 machines that were announced last October as part of what we now know was the Power7′ (that’s Power7 Prime) systems launch. That’s when IBM doubled up the main memory and shifted to PCI-Express 2.0 peripherals in the Power 710, 720, 730, and 740 machines and rejigged the configurations on the Power 770 and 780 as well.
I said it before and I will say it again: I think these boxes were supposed to have Power7+ processors and very likely for reasons relating to processor yield with the 32 nanometer chip etching process were unable to get the new cache-heavy and accelerated chips out the door. And given that the Power7+ chips were only launched in the Power 770+ and Power 780+ servers, I think IBM is still having issues cranking out the Power7+ chips, and that is why the rest of the line will not get the latest Power chip until next year. I have to believe that with the Xeon E5s showing very good performance that IBM is eager to get the Power7+ chips out, and to also get its double-stuffed Power7+ sockets out as well.
But in the meantime, IBM wants to sell what it can sell, and that means customers with older machines that are running out of capacity are going to be encouraged to upgrade and those with even older gear are going to be prodded to ditch their old gear and just move to new Power 770+ and Power 780 machinery.
As you can see, IBM is indeed offering upgrade paths from Power6, Power6+, and Power7 iron into the new Power7+ machines:
In announcement letter 112-174, which goes over the Power 770+ machine, IBM is doing processor conversions as well as DDR2 to DDR3 memory module conversions as part of the upgrades. You can also get new “trim kits” to trick out the systems and racks so they look like the new boxes. If you already have DDR3 memory or licenses to Active Memory Expansion for AIX memory compression, you can move those features into the new box, and PowerVM licenses can also make the jump as well as a bunch of RAID controllers and other features that are compatible. If you want to keep your 3.5-inch disks internal system disks, you need to put them in an expansion drawer since the Power 770+ only supports 2.5-inch drives.
In announcement letter 112-186 for the Power 780+ machine, you will see much the same story, which stands to reason since the Power 780/780+ is the same iron as the Power 770/770+ with some slight differences in processor cards. What I find interesting in this chart and in the announcements is that there is no upgrade from a Power 770 (from 2010) or Power 770′ (from 2011) to a Power 780+ machine. Considering how similar the machines are–they just have different processor card features–you would expect there to be such an upgrade. But maybe it is more of a lateral move and is either not considered an upgrade or is not allowed for accounting reasons.
If you are on older Power5 and Power5+ machines such as the Power 570 and Power 590, then IBM thinks you should consider a push-pull system swap and get onto a Power 770+ server. Here’s the argument it is making:
Assume you are on a 64-core Power 570 machine based on 1.9 GHz Power5 processors and you are only at 30 percent CPU utilization. IBM says that you can move your workloads over to a Power 770+ with 4.2GHz processors with 18 cores activated and run them at 60 percent CPU utilization and end up with 50 percent more effective compute capacity, as well as cutting your energy use by 84 percent. Assuming you are paying per-core licenses for database software (which you do for DB2, DB2 for i, and Oracle 10g or 11g), then you can save around $1 million in database license costs and over $250,000 in maintenance costs over three years.
A couple of comments about these numbers. First, if you have a 64-core Power5 570 that is only running at 30 percent utilization, you have a bigger problem than upgrading your iron. The same applies to the Power 590 comparison above. If you are running a 64-core Power 590 at only 30 percent utilization, there is something wrong or something weird about your workloads.
With that much capacity left over on either Power5 machine in IBM’s example, you would have to have tremendous demand for processing at the end of week, end of month, and end of year to justify so much excess capacity. What you need to do is buy a baseline system for the normal workload and use capacity on demand (CoD) for the peaks.
The reduction in operating system and database software costs are real, too, but if you already have paid for the software on the Power5 box, you can’t honestly compare the incurred cost on the Power5 machine from years ago to one you will incur if you do an upgrade to a Power 770+ right now. You need to look at ongoing software and hardware maintenance costs over three to five years and compare that to new system and software licenses costs and maintenance over the same three to five years. I have no doubt that the numbers work out to save you some money, but it is probably not as much as this comparison above implies. More importantly, moving to a Power 770+ gets you current with software releases and gets you all the new hardware functionality. And you have plenty of room to expand within the box over the next couple of years without having to do another upgrade.
The same upgrade and box-swap scenarios will likely play out at the low-end and midrange of the Power Systems product line next year when the Power7+ chips come out down there. There’s very little doubt that the Power7′ machines at the low-end–that’s the Power 710, 720, 730, and 740 machines announced in October 2011–will be able to accept Power7+ processors and run with a minor microcode change. It is not at all clear what IBM will do in terms of upgrades for Power6 and Power6+ machines, but as was the case with the Power 570 and Power 770 machines, it seems likely that IBM will also offer upgrades here.