Invader II: New Power7+ Machines Take On Entry X86 Iron
February 11, 2013 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It has been a long, long time since IBM both understood and did something dramatic about the competitive pressure that X86-based servers have put on its RISC-based systems. The last time I can remember Big Blue really going after X86 boxes was back when the AS/400 Model 170 “Invader” servers came out in February 1998. Although, to be fair, the Power 520 M15 and M25 models that came out a decade later were no slouches, either. This time around, we don’t have to wait a decade for IBM to get serious. With the entry Power7+ machines announced last Tuesday, it only took five years.
And maybe, just maybe, IBM will keep the heat on from here on out, making the Power Systems lineup competitive on every front: performance, price, reliability, the availability of applications, and so forth.
This is key because with Advanced Micro Devices and Intel coping with a failing PC market, sluggish X86 server demand, and the impending onslaught of ARM-based servers, there has never been a better time to take the X86 platform down a notch or two. And frankly, with the chip manufacturing process lead that Intel has, as well as its very impressive future “Ivy Bridge” and “Haswell” designs, Big Blue may not get another chance like this again for many years to come.
There are four plain-vanilla entry Power Systems that are deploying the new Power7+ processor, and as some IBM documents have been doing, I will add a plus designation to their names so you can keep straight which ones are using Power7 or Power7+ chips. Well, actually there are five new entry machines if you count the Power 720+ tower version as separate from the Power 720+ rack machine and the other three rackers: the Power 710+, the Power 730+, and the Power 740+.
The Power 710+ and Power 730+ machines are 2U rack machines that come with either one or two processor cards installed, and these are not only the basis of the PowerLinux 7R1+ and 7R2+ Linux-only servers, but they are also the machines that IBM is pitting directly against one-socket and two-socket machines using Intel’s Xeon E3-1200 v2 and Xeon E5-2600 v1 processors, and by extension, servers based on AMD’s Opteron 3300, 4300, and 6300 processors.
To make that point clear, IBM has set the entry price of the Power 710+ machine at $5,947, and Steve Sibley, director of worldwide product management for IBM’s Power Systems division, told me that the pricing on the two-socket Power 730+ was designed to have price parity with a ProLiant DL380p Gen8 server from Hewlett-Packard. To that end, a Power 730+ machine with two eight-core Power7+ processors running at 3.6 GHz with 64 GB of main memory and two disk drives costs $11,033, exactly the same as the ProLiant DL380p Gen8 machine with two eight-core Xeon E5-2600 processors running at 2.9 GHz with the same memory and disk setup. And, points out Sibley, this Power Systems machine will have more integer oomph and has more expandability because of the GX++ InfiniBand port on the processor, which allows for remote I/O drawers to be linked directly into the system bus. No X86 server does that.
I will do a thorough technical and financial analysis of the new Power7+ machines, from bottom to top, to see how competitive they are for reasonably configured machines, including the new PowerLinux boxes and not just for press release configurations, in future editions of The Four Hundred. For now, let’s just tell you about the plain vanilla machines.
And I am not going to get into all of the feeds and speeds of the processor and why it is so much better than the Power7 chip. See the Related Stories section at the end of this story and you can read all about the processors and why they are so much better. Suffice it to say that by shrinking the chips to a 32 nanometer copper/SOI process, IBM has boosted the L3 cache by a factor of 2.5, added lots of accelerators for specific encryption, hashing, compression, and random number functions, and goosed clock speeds. The Power7+ chips also allow for up to 20 logical partitions per core, double that allowed with prior generations of Power processors.
The Power 710+, technically known as the 8231-E1D in the IBM catalog, comes in that familiar 1U chassis that really has not changed much in the past three years. It has three processor options: a four-core Power7+ chip running at 3.6 GHz, a six-core chip running at 4.2 GHz, and an eight-core chip running at 4.2 GHz. The oomph of this machine on IBM’s Commercial Performance Workload (CPW) relative performance test ranges from 28,400 CPWs with four cores running at 3.6GHz to 64,500 CPWs on the eight-core chip running at 4.2 GHz.
One thing: When IBM deactivates cores on the chips (or more precisely, blocks off cores that are not working but otherwise salvages the chip so it can be used), it is also deactivating the L3 cache segments associated with those cores. So you end up with 10 MB of L3 cache per core across the product line. It would be fun if you could get a four-core chip with 20 MB per core of L3 cache, given that an entire Xeon E5-2600 chip tops out at 20 MB of L3 cache across eight cores.
This entry Power 710+ server supports from 8 GB to 256 GB of DDR3 main memory. (All memory runs at 1.07 GHz across the Power7+ line, by the way. It looks like IBM is buying memory at one speed in bulk as a means of dropping the price on its Power Systems line.) That maximum memory is double of the prior generation of Power7 and Power7′ (prime) machines, and is enabled through a new 64 GB memory stick. IBM has not added more memory slots to the system, and if you looked at the system card, you would see it really doesn’t have a lot of room to do that. The chassis has room for six 2.5-inch SAS disks drives or flash SSDs, and it has five PCI-Express 2.0 x8 peripheral slots (they are low profile) plus one x4 slot that is used by Ethernet adapters to give customers four network ports. The Power 710+ does not support 12X I/O links to remote I/O drawers, but it can have EXP24S drawers attached to it through SAS links and support a maximum of 102 drives for a capacity of 91TB using the new 900 GB disk drive features that come with the Power7+ machines.
The Power 730+ is a tweaked version of the Power 710+ with two processor cards and slightly different processor options, plus the ability to use remote I/O drawers through 12X loops. The Power 730+ has to be configured with two processor cards–you cannot have just one, this is apparently Doritos–and you can choose from a four-core Power7+ chip running at 4.3 GHz, a six-core chip spinning at 4.2 GHz, or eight-core chips humming at 3.6 GHz or 4.2 GHz. The machine has two processor cards, so it has twice as much memory, topping out at 512 GB if you use the 64 GB sticks. (I can’t wait to find out what those cost.) With a mix of EXP24S and feature 5802 remote I/O drawers, you can have 378 disks for a total of 340 TB of capacity attached to a Power 730+ system. That is a lot of data for a small business, to be sure. The Power 730+ ranges from a low of 59,700 CPWs for that eight-core setup (and that is if you activate all four cores on each processor card) to a high of 117,600 CPWs on the top-end machine with 16 cores fired up.
Both the Power 710+ and the Power 730+ have an integrated RAID controller on the motherboard, which supports RAID 0 mirroring, RAID 1 data striping, and RAID 10 (which is a striping of mirrors). If you want to have RAID 5 (which is striping plus parity data stored on one of the drives) or RAID 6 (which is RAID 5 with a hot spare drive left idle for recovery), then you have to snap in a separate mezzanine card. This is just like the prior Power7 machines.
The Power 720+ server will be the workhorse for most IBM i shops, and like prior Power 720 machines, rather than having a lot of variation in clock speeds, IBM just locks the clocks and lets customers activate cores. (You have to keep it simple when you want to do volumes through the channel, presumably.) Anyway, at 3.6 GHz, the Power7+ chip has 20 percent more clock speed than the Power7 chip it replaces in the Power 720 servers, and with the extra cache and other nips and tucks in the system, you might get better performance than that. (You might not, depending on your code and databases, too.) The official performance rating for this box ranges from 28,400 CPWs with four cores to 56,300 CPWs with eight cores. The four-core variant has from 8 GB to 64 GB of memory, which is artificially capped by IBM to force you to upgrade to a higher software tier if you need more memory. This is not new behavior, but it is half the memory that was available on the Power 720′ (prime) machine announced in October 2011 as the entry Power 720 machine. The six-core and eight-core machines top out at 512 GB, and that is twice as much memory as was available on the Power 720.
This Power 720+ server has a single socket and comes in the same 4U chassis you know and love, and the great thing about that is that it takes full-height PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slots. In this case, you have five x8 slots and one x4 slot for the Ethernet adapter. You can also install a riser card to put in for more low-profile x8 slots. You can also hang remote I/O drawers off the Power 720+ for a total of 380 disk drives with 380 TB of capacity using those new 900 GB disk drives using a mix of feature 5802 and EXP24S drawers. The Power 720+ comes in a rack or tower version, and in either case you can have six 2.5-inch drives or SSDs with a DVD and tape drive or eight disks or SSDs.
The Power 740+ lets you put one or two processor cards in the same 4U rack-mounted chassis that is used by the Power 720+, and the processor frequencies and core counts scale with the Power 740+ as well.
Specifically, the Power 740+ lets you have a six-core Power7+ running at 4.2 GHz or an eight-core chip spinning at either 3.6 GHz or 4.2 GHz. The Power 740+ offers from 8 GB to 512 GB of main memory in its eight memory slots per processor card, which means you can crank it up to 1 TB of main memory using that fat 64 GB memory stick. This is twice the memory of the prior Power 740 machine. The Power 740+ can handle up to 416 disk drives for a total of 374 TB of disk capacity, and offers a performance range of 49,000 CPWs on a six-core machine to 120,000 CPWs for a 16 core machine.