Negotiating The Upgrade Paths To Power8 Enterprise Systems
November 17, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
This week, IBM will start shipping the first of its line of high-end Power E870 and Power E880 machines. These are the largest NUMA-style shared memory machines that Big Blue has designed using its Power8 processors, and they replace the existing Power 770, Power 780, and Power 795 machines in the lineup. Eventually, a full-bore, 12-core Power8 chip will be available in the top end Power E880 machines, offering significantly more performance in 16 sockets than a Power 795 could deliver in 32 sockets.
To recap: IBM intends to offer a Power E880 that scales to 128 cores using an eight-core Power8 running at 4.35 GHz and a Power E880 that will deliver up to 192 cores using the 12-core Power8 chip at an as-yet-undisclosed clock speed. But the three-node and four-node Power E880s are not expected until next year, perhaps in April or May when IBM tends to do Power Systems announcements. And the super-fast 48-core Power E880 nodes are also not expected until sometime in 2015, too. When is not clear, and I think a lot depends on the yields that IBM can get on the 22 nanometer processes used to etch its Power8 chips in the East Fishkill, New York, chip plant that the company just sold off to GlobalFoundries.
In the meantime, most high-end customers will be able to make-do just fine with the existing Power E870, which can have one or two nodes in a single system image, or the initial Power E880s, which also come with one or two nodes using 4.02 GHz, 4.19 GHz, and 4.35 GHz Power8 chips with eight or 10 cores activated. As The Four Hundred reported last week, the machines offer somewhere between 359,000 and 911,000 units of performance on IBM’s Commercial Performance Workload (CPW) online transaction processing benchmark test in two-node configurations. That’s about twice the performance per node as the Power 770+ and Power 780+ machines with two nodes. So that is plenty of headroom right there. And for customers who are looking to consolidate workloads on Power 750+ and Power 760+ machines, provided they can get a good deal on the software licensing, the Power E870 and Power E880 machines with one or two nodes might be attractive as well.
This is particularly true for workloads that are networked. With individual machines, information is transferred across the Ethernet network between boxes, with runs at 10 Gb/sec for most customers who have upgraded their networks in the past several years. The NUMA interconnect that links together multiple chips on a node and multiple nodes in a system has many orders of magnitude more bandwidth and orders of magnitude lower latency than this Ethernet link, which means data can be exchanged like greased lightning. This is generally more useful for parallel applications, like simulation and modeling workloads, but in with data analytics workloads where there are dependencies between workloads that are on distinct servers, having them consolidated onto one box might make sense. Ditto for collapsing physical machines from different geographies, possibly with different languages, onto a single box in a single datacenter, with all of the partitions running on logical partitions and yet able to share data over the internal networking, which runs on the memory bus of the Power Systems server.
As always, IBM can only offer system upgrades and maintain the serial numbers of the machines if a certain percentage of the box remains untouched. The accounting profession has very precise rules about such things because changing the iron affects the depreciation schedule for that iron and therefore the books of the companies that own the computer equipment. If you can preserve the serial number, you can preserve the depreciation schedule. If you can’t, you have to writeoff the box you replace and start a new depreciation schedule for the new machine you bring it.
The important thing for IBM i shops, particularly for those on older Power6 and Power6+ iron, is that there is a way to get from vintage Power 570 to Power E870 and Power E880 iron, as you can see in this upgrade chart below:
As you can see, IBM is not offering upgrades from the Power 720 to the Power8 scale-out machines–the Power S814 and Power S824 are the ones that matter for IBM i shops–and it doesn’t look to be planning upgrades from the Power 740 and Power 750 machines to whatever the future four-socket Power8 boxes, also expected in the first half of 2015, either.
Moving from those older machines to the newer machines is a bit trickier than it might look in the above chart. Here’s a drilldown that provides a little more detail on the hopping and skipping between machines with serial number preservation:
IBM has withdrawn upgrades from the Power 570 to the initial B series models of the Power 770 and Power 780, and says that there is very little interest from customers in moving from the Power 570 or the B series Power 770 or Power 780 to the C series models. These B and C series machines are based on the Power7 processors, while the D series models are based on the Power7+ chips. Technically, you can only upgrade from the Power7+ to the Power8 systems, as you can see. So customers who want to move from older iron to the new Power8 enterprise-class machines are going to have to do a two-step upgrade, getting to a Power 770+ or a Power 780+ machine first and then doing another upgrade to get to the Power E870 or Power E880. IBM has a full set of processor conversions for this latter set of upgrades, and at the moment that means customers using the 3.61 GHz and 4.23 GHz Power7+ chips in the Power 770+ can move up to the 4.02 GHz and 4.19 GHz Power8 processors, and those using the 3.61 GHz and 4.4 GHz Power7+ chips in the Power 780+ can move up to the 4.35 GHz Power8 chip. Processor features and processor activation features convert of carry over for these upgrades, and so do memory features and memory activations. The 5250 IBM i enablements for running green screen workloads carry over as well, and so do licenses for the Active Memory Expansion memory compression feature for AIX. (It is not clear if these conversions and carryovers are priced at zero or at a net difference in price. I will try to find out.)
And just so you know. IBM cannot treat the move from a Power 570 to a Power E870 or Power E880 as a one-step upgrade, even if it is done over a long weekend. IBM is telling business partners that it is best to separate the upgrades over a few months, moving to the Power7+ machine and then the Power8 machine later. The heat is a little bit on customers to make a decision, by the way. IBM will stop selling upgrades into the Power 770+ and Power 780+ machines when it stops selling the machines new to customers. IBM has not said when that will be, but you can bet it will be as soon as IBM is confident that the Power E870 and Power E880 machines are ramped and ready to take over at the high end.