IBM Rolls Out Three New Power7+ Flex System Nodes
August 12, 2013 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The Flex System modular server design is an improvement over the BladeCenter blade servers in that the IBM i operating system running on Power nodes is an equal and a peer to AIX and Linux running on the same iron and is similarly not a second-class citizen to Windows and Linux running on nodes using Intel‘s Xeon processors. But as I have said many times since the Flex System machines were launched in April 2012, the two-socket Power nodes are overkill in terms of processing power and IBM i software tiers for the vast majority of midrange shops.
What I want IBM to do, as I have explained, is to take a katana or a laser and cut the 10U Flex System chassis in half vertically, creating something that is still a modular chassis that can take single-wide Power and Xeon compute nodes, as well as smaller Storwize disk arrays and the integrated Flex System Manager. It would look like a funky tower server and with only a few server nodes, and it would be more than enough for the mixed workloads at most IBM i shops.
Big Blue has not launched the Flex System Tower, as I was calling it, but it has done something that at least addresses some of the concerns I brought up. Specifically, it has launched a two-socket Flex p260+ server node that comes in at the much-desired P05 software tier instead of the P10 tier that is in effect for other Power7 and Power7+ server nodes in the Flex System family.
In announcement letter 113-072, IBM launched the new Flex p260+ node, which comes loaded with two dual-core Power7+ chips running at 4 GHz. The Power7+ chip has eight cores, of course, and Big Blue is sorting through the bins, finding versions of the chips where two, four, or six cores work and making good use of them. (Just as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices do with their respective X86 chips.)
Other than having only four cores active in the two-socket system, the new baby Flex p260+ server node (product number 7895-23A) is indistinguishable from the p260+ node that was announced last November. That Flex p260+ node can support up to 512 GB of main memory, which is a lot of main memory for a four-core machine and which presents some interesting possibilities for making a very fast in-memory database machine goosed by flash storage. Anyway, you will have to use 32GB memory sticks to jack that Flex p260+ node up to a half terabyte of main memory, and those cost $1,399 a pop for the 16 you will need. That works out to a cool $22,384. Two 177 GB flash drives will cost you a stunning $8,800, which is almost the same price as the base list price of the Flex p260+ node, which is $8,999 with the two processors in the node and two 4GB memory sticks (those only cost $230, so they ain’t worth much). So, for $39,953, not including the cost of the Flex System chassis and switches, you could build one hell of a fast P05 machine that would be the database and application engine that might feed out to other x220 or x240 Xeon nodes in the system.
In addition to the baby Flex p260+ node, IBM also added two more Flex nodes using its Power7+ chips. As expected, the four-socket Power node has been upgraded with the latest IBM chips. In announcement letter 113-062, you will see that the new machine, product number 7895-43X, has been gussied up with different Power7+ chips. You can use a four-core Power7+ chip running at 4 GHz if clock speed is more important than core or thread count for your jobs, or you want to allocate more memory per core. The Flex p460+ is a double-wide card that is basically two p260+ nodes linked by a NUMA chipset so the main memory spans all of the processor sockets in the complex. That Flex p460+ supports up to 1TB of main memory (twice that of the original Power7-based p460 node from the initial “Project Troy” announcement). So, you could have each core in the Flex p460+ having its own 64 GB of main memory.
The Flex p460+ also supports eight-core Power7+ processors that spin at 3.6 GHz or 4.1 GHz if you need more oomph for your workloads. As far as I know, all of the processors have to match in the system, so you can mix them up. The base p460+ with 16 cores running at 4GHz costs $32,307, including 128 GB of main memory, according to the pricing IBM put together for me. If you want to use the 3.6 GHz Power7+ chip, then having four of these stuffed into the p460+ node plus 256 GB of memory will cost you $52,845. If you want the fastest 4.1 GHz eight-core chips on this server node, then you are in for $59,230 including the cost of 256 GB of memory. The p460+ is in the P10 software group.
That leaves the new Flex p270+ node for the Flex System chassis. This one is a two-socket server that is virtually indistinguishable from the p260+ node, except that this machine has double-stuffed six-core Power7+ processor modules that slip into each of its two sockets, yielding a dozen cores per socket. (IBM calls these dual-chip modules, and they are used in the Power 750+ and Power 760+ rack-mounted machines that were announced in February as well as in the PowerLinux 7R4 machine announced last week.) There are two processor options for the Flex p270+ machine: one runs at 3.1 GHz and the other runs at 3.4 GHz. The p270+ tops out at 512 GB across its 16 memory slots, just like the p260+ does. Using the 3.1 GHz chips, the p270+ with 128 GB of memory costs $19,343, while the machine with 3.4 GHz processors and the same 128 GB of memory costs $23,211.
All three server nodes will be available on September 10. The support IBM i 6.1 and 7.1 and AIX 6.1 and 7.1 from IBM, as well as Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 and 6 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and 11.
I will track down the CPW ratings of the new nodes and do the usual price/performance analysis to see how these new nodes stack up to the existing Power7 and Power7+ iron.