Sundry Power Systems I/O And Storage Enhancements
July 8, 2013 Timothy Prickett Morgan
IBM seems to be more or less done with Power Systems announcements for the summer, and is not expected to make any major system changes before the end of the year. However, there are a bunch of I/O and storage products that will become available this month as well as other announcements that Big Blue made back in June that you need to be aware of.
A batch of I/P and storage tweaks were bunched up in announcement letter 113-087. The first is the fulfillment of a prior statement of direction from Big Blue to get its EXP30 Ultra SSD I/O drawer (feature number EDR1) attached to the Power 770, 770+, 780, and 780+ machines.
This expansion drawer for solid state drives makes use of a new dual-port GX++ adapter card, which lets the external storage chassis link directly into the Power processor complex without having to go through the PCI-Express 2.0 bus in the systems. (The GX++ bus is itself a variant of the 20 Gb/sec InfiniBand protocol, but the way, and uses InfiniBand in the way that Intel and IBM intended–as a switched system and storage interconnect.) The EXP chassis can hold 32 SSDs and drives a total of 480,000 I/O operations per second maximum on reads and up to 4.5GB/sec of I/O bandwidth into and out of the 1U rack-mounted chassis. It has two SAS controllers with 3.1GB of write cache each to keep the controller from choking on data coming on and off the flash drives, which pump data an order of magnitude quicker than disk drives.
IBM is very keen on flash storage, and has seen a pretty good ramp of SSD sales under the skins of Power Systems, as this chart shows:
The growth tapered off a bit there in 2012, and you can bet that Big Blue’s top brass are not happy about that. I would suggest that flash is one of those things that is probably elastic in terms of demand. In other words, cut the price and you can make it up in volume. Also, if you want flash to be in the server, stop talking so much about flash inside the storage area network. Someone needs to explain to Power Systems shops when and where they should put flash–and why. IBM i is not yet supported with the FlashSystem 820, which IBM got when it acquired Texas Memory Systems last summer. These devices have similar price/performance, so it is not clear how IBM will position them other than the fact that the FlashSystem 820 is twice as dense, cramming 24 TB of flash into a 1U space compared to 11.6 TB for the EXP30 and EXP24S drawers.
Anyway, the EDR1 expansion drawer is more expensive than the similar EXP 30 chassis that attaches to smaller Power Systems machines; in this case, it costs $32,092. And the feature 1914 dual-port GX++ adapter it requires costs $3,300. The 1.8-inch, 387 GB SSD drives that go into this chassis cost $5,763 a pop, but if you buy a six-pack of them, the price drops to $5,188 apiece (or $31,120 for six). IBM was expecting to charge $7,990 for the SSDs when bought as onesies, but apparently changed its mind and is now charging less than the $6,200 price for the same SSD drive when used in other expansion enclosures. (Why can’t IBM set one price for a device and leave it at that? Oh, right, this is marketing. . . . )
The four Power 770 through 780+ machines are also now able to use the two-port 16 Gb/sec Fibre Channel adapter card, which is feature EN0A on these machines and which was made available on other Power7+ systems earlier this year for linking Power Systems machines to storage area networks. The feature EN0A adapter costs $4,500, but it has twice the bandwidth of the 8 Gb/sec feature 5735 card for an incremental 28.6 percent increase in price. There is a low-profile version of the card called feature EN0B, by the way.
Finally, IBM says that somewhere around the middle of next year, because of supply constraints from suppliers, it will be removing 80/160 GB Digital Audio Tape (DAT) backup drives from marketing. IBM will be perfectly happy to sell whatever DAT drives and tapes it has in the barn, but is recommending that customers look at Ultrium LTO drives as an alternative. And if you need a cheaper solution, IBM suggests RDX removable disk drives instead.