Power8 Launch Rumored To Start At The Low End
March 31, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As The Four Hundred has already told you, it looks like IBM is going to be moving the launch of Power8-based systems up a bit to try to blunt the attack by Intel‘s latest Xeon E5 and E7 processors, which have been refreshed last September and this February, respectively. We have heard rumors to expect the Power8 systems launch in late April or early May. New data is pointing to that time, and other rumors we have heard are suggesting IBM will do the launch in a different part of the market than it did with the Power7 and Power7+ chips.
To recap: A few weeks ago, the word on the street was to expect Power8 systems to launch at the end of April and for IBM i 7.2, the next release of the operating system, to be announced in early May. This timing seems about right given that IBM is hosting its Impact2014 conference in Las Vegas on April 27 through May 1. While this event is focused on System z, PureSystems, and industry verticals, it is earlier than the Edge2014 event, also in Las Vegas, that Big Blue is hosting to push infrastructure innovation, specifically on System x, PureSystems, and storage. This event is being held May 19 through 23, but it may be too late to help IBM’s sales in the second quarter and thus we expect the machines at Impact2014 rather than Edge2014. Sources familiar with IBM’s plans say the Power8 machines will indeed debut at Impact2014, but a word of caution–plans change, and sometimes dramatically.
The IBM i 7.2 release might have features tied to the Power8 systems, but it will also be supported on earlier Power Systems machines. That’s why I think IBM will wait until the annual COMMON user group and expo meeting that runs from May 4 through 7 in Orlando, Florida, to show off IBM i 7.2 as well as the new Power8 iron.
What I can tell you is that last week, master reseller Avnet said that it would be hosting its Power8 Sales Academy and IBM i sales academy between April 23 through 25 at the IBM Executive Briefing Center in Rochester, Minnesota. (Hopefully, the snow will have stopped by then, but you can’t trust that Polar Vortex this year, now can you?) This meeting will “focus on IBM i, future release information and Power 8 HW.” IBM cautions that registration is limited and partners should register early.
I am also hearing that IBM will initially launch Power8 systems that focus on scale out systems versus scale up systems, and that in fact the marketing push for these machines will be all about cloud, big data, open, and scale out–the very markets and marketing terms where Intel dominates and where IBM wants to get Power systems, particularly those running Linux, to compete better.
The 12-core Power8 chip, which is implemented in IBM’s own 22 nanometer copper/SOI processes and etched in its chip plant in East Fishkill, New York, is going to pack a punch, as I have explained in past issues. The Power8 socket will have about 2.3 to 2.7 times the performance running a variety of commercial workloads compared to a Power7+ socket, with a lot of that coming from the 50 percent increase in cores and the doubling of threads from four to eight per core. (Those figures are for Power7+ and Power8 baseline processors running at 4 GHz.) Compared to a Power7 chip, the single thread on a Power8 chip will be able to do something on the order of 1.6 times the work because of architectural improvements such as larger and more caches, wider load/store units, and a bunch of other features. I would guess that a single 12-core Power8 chip running at 4 GHz will deliver about 155,000 units of performance on the Commercial Performance Workload (CPW) online transaction processing test that IBM uses to gauge the relative oomph of machines running the IBM i operating system. (You can see all of the Power8 chip feeds and speeds at this link.)
If IBM does start at the low-end of the Power Systems line with the Power8 chips, that means a few things. First, the yields on the Power8 chips are good enough to be used on the higher volume products. IBM has four classes of machines–entry, midrange, enterprise, and high-end, which are my names for them–and there are also PureSystems variants with entry and midrange nodes. The entry machines (Power 720 through 740) have one or two sockets, the midrange machines (Power 750 and Power 760) have up to four sockets, the enterprise machines (Power 770 and Power 780) have up to 16 sockets, and the high-end machine (Power 795) has up to 32 sockets.
IBM started the Power7 launch back in February 2010 with the Power 750-class midrange machines, including a Power 755 supercomputing node, as well as the enterprise-class Power 770 and Power 780. The Power7 was rolled into the BladeCenter blade servers in April that year, and entry machines did not come out until August 2010, which is also when the Power 795 high-end server.
With the Power7+ chips, IBM got rolling with the Power 770 and Power 780 in October 2012, followed entry and midrange machines in February 2013. There was no upgrade to the Power 795 with the Power7+ chip, and there will very likely not be one with the Power 895 machine–if that is what it will be called–because the “plus” chips do not end up in the high-end boxes. Those are designed for customers who want a three-year or four-year upgrade cycle, not one that is faster.
If these rumors are right–and the sources are thin, so you have to be careful with such information–then customers who are in the middle of negotiating a Power7 or Power7+ deal have to work with their resellers and IBM to get some more insight into what is going on with the Power8 announcements. Of course, low-end customers, individually, don’t have much in the way of pull with Big Blue. The largest couple hundred Power Systems shops no doubt can get all kinds of insight, under a non-disclosure agreement, about what the Power8 rollout looks like. But, if you have a deal in the works, you need to press for information and then you need to press for a pretty steep discount. The Power8 chips represent a big technological leap, and these processors will have a longer technological life as IBM improves IBM i, AIX, and Linux as time goes on.
How much of a discount depends on what features of the Power8 machine–transactional memory, shared virtual memory between coprocessors and the Power8 chip, memory compression, and others–you intend to use. And, without knowing the IBM i roadmap that synchs up with these features, it is hard to even guess what the value of these features are.
Suffice it to say this: newer is always better, and if you can wait, you should.
There is talk going around that entry IBM i customers will once again get a four-core Power8 variant aimed at 720-class systems, although I am hopeful that the system design is updated to allow for more peripherals like disks and flash. If the target clock speed for the Power8 chip ranges from 2.5 GHz to 5.5 GHz, and the test speed was 4 GHz, dead center of that range, then it stands to reason that this four-core machine should have a clock speed in excess of this. The Power7 chip used in four-core Power 720s ran at 3 GHz, and the Power7+ chip used in the Power 720+ hit 3.6 GHz. Single thread performance is supposed to rise by 1.6X from the Power7 to the Power8, so a four-core Power8 should be about 38,000 CPWs at a 3 GHz clock speed and about 51,000 CPWs at a 4 GHz clock speed. That is roughly 2.1X the aggregate performance of the Power 720 with all of its four cores on, and about 1.8X that of the Power 720+ with all four cores lit up.
That is a lot more oomph. IBM will be sorely tempted to try to keep the cost per CPW the same to boost sales, but that is not how Moore’s Law works so it had better not try to do that.