IBM Preps Flashy Servers For January Launch
January 13, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It looks like Big Blue is going to get the jump on its server competitors in previewing its next generation of flash-enhanced servers based on Intel‘s Xeon processors. IBM has an announcement scheduled for January 16 that will include the top brass from its System x, PureFlex, BladeCenter, and Flash Systems business units, but don’t be fooled. Anything IBM does for System x it will eventually do for Power Systems.
As it has been doing for the past several years, IBM will be hosting a webcast to launch its new systems and their flashy storage, and you can sign up for it at this link. Here’s the announcement invitation:
As you can see, IBM is being a bit vague about what precisely it is announcing. Adalio Sanchez, general manager of the System x division, will be hosting the event, and he will be joined by Alex Yost, vice president of the PureFlex, System x, and BladeCenter lines, and Michael Kuhn, vice president of Flash Systems. Notably, Kuhn is in charge of the flash adapter cards and arrays that IBM got through its acquisition of Texas Memory Systems back in August 2012. As we said at the time of the TMS acquisition, IBM’s Software Group and Systems Storage division have de-duplication software that TMS was missing for its flash-based adapters for inside of servers and appliances for sharing big gobs of flash across multiple servers.
IBM has also been testing flash-based nodules that plug into server memory slots from Diablo Technologies, and it is possible that these will also be part of the January 16 announcements. The initial Memory Channel Storage modules I have seen have 200 GB or 400 GB capacities and plug into DDR3 main memory slots; they have a special driver that allows the flash storage to look like normal flash, and the benefit is that it links to the processors in the system over the QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) bus that main memory hangs off of rather than a PCI-Express 2.0 or 3.0 slot, which is considerably slower and further from the CPUs in the system. Netlist, a maker of clever high-density DRAM memory, is in the middle of suing Diablo and its partner in these flash-based memory sticks, Smart Modular Technologies, alleging, among other things, patent infringement. So IBM may stay clear of announcing its use of these flash memory modules until the legal dust settles.
IBM has already announced the Flash System 820 and 720 appliances and Flash Adapter 90, which support AIX and Linux but as far as I know do not yet support IBM i. Obviously they ought to, and if IBM has any enhancements to these products coming this month, or the Diablo flash memory sticks, then these should be supported by IBM i as well. Anything that helps accelerate AIX and Linux workloads can be–and should be–used to accelerate IBM i workloads. It is that simple.
IBM could also be previewing its System x and PureFlex machines using Intel’s forthcoming “Ivy Bridge-EX” Xeon E7 v2 processors. These chips, which started shipping to Intel’s server partners as 2013 was coming to a close, are expected to launch in the coming months. Intel has confirmed that the Xeon E7 v2 will top out at 15 cores per chip (probably with one hot spare on top of that) and max out at 12 TB of memory for an eight-socket box. That is 50 percent more cores and the same increase in main memory capacity to balance it out compared to the current Xeon E7 v1 processors. These latter Xeon E7s are looking a little long in the tooth, since they date from June 2011 and are based on the “Westmere” architecture. Intel likes to give one server maker a jump on showing off each new chip, and it could be IBM’s turn to go first this time around.
Whatever IBM does, we will keep you posted and suss out the Power Systems and IBM i angles.