Storage And I/O Enhancements Come To Power Boxes
February 18, 2013 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Whenever IBM makes major processor announcements in the Power Systems line, it likes to roll out companion enhancements to the storage it attaches to or embeds within the boxes as well as updating network adapter and other I/O features for the systems. And, as you might expect, using these features on existing systems as well as new ones requires patches to the operating system. And so it is with the February 5 announcements.
In announcement letter 113-006, IBM revealed all of the storage and I/O enhancements that came out in conjunction with the new entry and midrange Power7+ servers, but in many cases are not restricted to these machines or the most current IBM i 7.1 release of the operating system.
The most intriguing new I/O feature is a little something that smells a bit like the 5250 capacity governors that IBM used to put on processors, charging extra capacity for running the native green-screen protocol. (Which ironically was more efficient and used less CPU capacity than other methods of accessing data inside the DB2 for i database. So you had to pay a lot more to use something that left you more CPU to use for actual processing. I know, crazy, right? That is what fashion is like.)
In this case, IBM is putting a software feature into IBM i 6.1.1 that allows native I/O support for peripherals and storage systems that run on top of the new Power7+ servers, and this feature EB34 is not free but rather costs $1,310. You can run IBM i 6.1.1 on Power 710+, 720+, 730+, 740+, 770+, and 780+ servers without this special feature code (the new Power 750+ and 760+ machines were not listed in the announcement letter) without this feature EB34, but if you do, then all I/O is virtualized and run through an AIX partition running the Virtual I/O Server or a partition running IBM i 7.1.
Basically, IBM is charging $1,310 for a native driver set that has been backcast to an earlier operating system release. Decide for yourself how you feel about this, and let me know. On a small machine, this is a lot of money, on a big one, not so much. I would think it would be more fair to have P05 through P60 software tiering on this feature, personally.
IBM is also expanding support of its EXP30 Ultra SSD I/O drawer to the new Power7+ machines. This drawer first debuted back in April 2012 and was enhanced last October with the launch of the Power 770+ and 780+ machines, which were the first machines to get the Power7+ chips. With the February 5 announcements, the EXP30 Ultra SSD I/O drawer (feature EDR1) can be attached to any of the new Power7+ machines, including plain vanilla Power Systems machines as well as the PowerLinux 7R2 Linux-only variant.
If you slide up to IBM i 7.1 Technology Refresh 6 when it becomes available later this week, then the EXP30 Ultra SSD drawer can be accessed natively over the GX++ ports that come off the Power7+ chip and you don’t need to go through VIOS. In fact, you can’t go through the VIOS, but you can virtualize it through other IBM i 7.1 partitions if you want to. The EXP30 SSD drawer cannot have native support on the Power 710+ and it cannot like through VIOS, and I am not sure why to be honest, but all of the other plain vanilla Power7+ machines out there can use it.
IBM has also bundled up six-packs and four-packs of SSDs for the two generations of EXP30 I/O drawers (the feature EDR1 mentioned above and its predecessor feature 5889 that bears the same model designation). You can order these SSD packs only with a new server order, which seems a bit unfair, and upgrades to a new server are not eligible for the packs. This is significant because they have a discounted price. The six-pack of 1.8-inch 387 GB SSDs is known as feature ESR2 and it costs $29,820 on entry machines and $38,353. (Yes, once again I will point out how silly it is to charge more for the same device on a larger machine, but this benefits most IBM i shops who have smaller machines for the most part.) Anyway, this bundle shaves about 18.5 percent off the price. You can order up to five of these six-packs of SSDs with a new server order.
IBM is also selling a four-pack of the 2.5-inch 387 GB SSDs that are used in servers themselves or in earlier feature 5802 and 5803 12X I/O drawers or feature 5887 EXP24S storage enclosures. You can only order one four-pack per system order, and this is called feature ESRA or ESRB (depending on the system) and it costs $19,840 or $25,988, again depending on large the system is. (Power 770+ and Power 780+ customers pay more.) These have a list price of $6,200 when purchased separately, as far as I can tell, so it is not much of a deal on high-end boxes. Go figure.
On the adapter front, IBM has two new dual-port PCI-Express 2.0 Fibre Channel SAN adapters that run at 16Gb/sec, which is as fast as it gets out there in SAN Land these days. This card, which comes from Emulex, uses exactly the same cabling as 8Gb/sec Fibre Channel adapters, but each port on these babies runs twice as fast, and that means you can get four times the bandwidth out of a single peripheral slot out and back to SANs. There is a low-profile version of this new FC card, feature EN0B, and a regular full height card, feature EN0A.
Emulex is also supplying IBM with a four-port adapter card that has two 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports that support the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) protocol as well as having two regular Gigabit Ethernet ports. These are features EN0H (full height) and EN0J (low profile).
These Emulex cards will be available on March 15, and pricing is not yet available.