Power Systems I/O Enhancements
October 20, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Starting on November 18, IBM will begin shipping a slew of new disk and flash drive features for Power Systems machines. The company is also previewing support for various I/O and storage devices that it will make available for the new enterprise-class E870 and E880 machines that were announced a few weeks ago. IBM is also making special versions of the scale-out Power8 machines available with hardened enclosures and DC power for telcos and other service providers that need such special gear.
All of the new features and the statements of direction are outlined in announcement letter 114-170. Most importantly for IBM i shops, IBM has two new 2.5-inch disk drives that spin at 15K RPM and two new 2.5-inch SSDs that are tweaked for read-intensive workloads in particular. This performance boost will be welcomed for customers who want more throughput and lower latency from their storage subsystems. Here are the new storage features:
The 4k in the notations above for the SSDs means that the drives are formatted using 4 KB sectors instead of 512 byte through 528 bytes sectors commonly used for Unix/Linux and IBM i machines, respectively. You can hang 5XX byte and 4K byte drives off the same SAS controllers, but you cannot mix the in the same array. The performance is about the same, says IBM. The industry will be moving to this formatting over the next five to 10 years, and so IBM is getting out on the front end.
There are versions of these disk drives above available for AIX configurations of the Power machines as well as for Linux machines, whether they are Linux running on the general purpose Power Systems iron or on the Linux-only Power8 machines or their PowerLinux predecessors. The IBM i variants are formatted using 528 byte sectors, so the disks have slightly more capacity when running on AIX or Linux machines, which have 512 byte sectors. The AIX and Linux folks get a drive that has 600 GB of capacity instead of 571 GB. IBM charges the same price regardless of the formatting. The AIX and Linux folks are also getting two new 177 GB 1.8-inch SSD drive (features #ES0Y with 4K byte formatting and ES0Z with 528 byte formatting) that are aimed at read-intensive workloads that costs $1,310; it comes in 528 byte flavors, so presumably the latter one could be plugged into IBM i machines, so it is a bit curious why it has not been made available. It probably has to do with the need to support it through VIOS instead of a direct driver. Given that this drive offers capacity at $7.40 per GB, compared to $8 per GB for the 775 GB drive and $9.27 per GB for the 387 GB drive, and the fact that customers only need a little flash to radically accelerate their database and application workloads, this 177 GB drive should be available on IBM i systems sooner rather than later.
In addition to these new disk and SSD features, IBM is making a 2 TB removable drive using the RDX form factor available for Power Systems machines, which is feature #EU2T, and it costs $600. This drive is currently supported on Power6, Power6+, Power7, and Power7+ machines, and will be available on October 31.
One interesting new bit is that the Power S824 server, which is the two-socket machine at the high-end of the line, now supports 128 GB memory cards from IBM, and that means the main memory can be doubled up to a maximum of 2 TB in this machine. These very fat memory cards do not have a feature number, but rather are made available on a special big basis, called an RPQ and known by RPQ 8A2232. That also means there is no official list price for them, either. From IBM’s statements, it looks like IBM is requiring customers to buy either 1 TB or 2 TB of capacity in total under this RPQ, which is eight or 16 cards. This special bid fat memory offering is not available through IBM’s eConfig tool and will be available sometime in December. This memory chip is only supported in the Power S824 and not in any other scale-out Power8 system and you cannot mix and match memory sticks from IBM with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB capacities with the 128 GB sticks.
IBM is also rolling out a new Crypto Coprocessor for doing encryption and decryption work that is offloaded from the Power processors in its most recent generations of systems. There is one with a blind swap cassette (BSC) and one without, and they both cost $11,000 a pop and will be available on November 28.
The carrier-grade and ruggedized versions of the Power8 machines will be available for the regular Power S822 two-socket machine and its Linux-only variant, the Power S822L. These machines are equipped with two 750 watt, 48-volt DC power supplies, which allows them to plug into telco datacenters, which run on DC power as mandated by law. (It is also more energy efficient in some ways.) These carrier-grade machines will conform to the Network Equipment Building Systems (NEBS) Level 3 and European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) standards used by telcos and carriers. These machines will almost certainly be running Linux rather than IBM i or AIX, but the important thing is that they can run IBM i and that IBM is trying to peddle Power8 machines into these markets. Anything that makes Power Systems stronger lets IBM i go longer.
If you are shopping for a Power E870 or E880 server, IBM also put out a statement of direction in this announcement letter indicating that a slew of peripherals would be available at some point in the future on the PCI-Express Gen 3.0 I/O drawer, two-port and four-port 10 Gb/sec Ethernet adapters and two-port SAS RAID disk controllers with 380 MB of reach cache. The system enclosures themselves will also be able to have a wide variety of Ethernet and InfiniBand adapters as well as various graphics adapters.