Private Big Iron Power8 Clouds To Puff Up With IBM i
October 3, 2016 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Last month, at the Edge conference in Las Vegas, IBM rolled out a new subset of the Power Systems line aimed at midrange and large enterprises that want to build private clouds. In the past, IBM’s cloud efforts have been centered around its low-end Power machinery, with one or two sockets, with the assumption that companies want to build Power clouds that look like distributed, virtual, and orchestrated systems based on Intel Xeon E5 processors.
This is not necessarily a valid assumption.
A cloud is about orchestration and automation, not about a particular form factor and NUMA scalability of a server. What works for the Googles and Facebooks of the world will not necessarily work well for the IBM i and AIX shops that have invested heavily in databases and applications that do not span multiple small machines as well as the extremely custom and often esoteric data stores and compute frameworks that hyperscalers have created with legions of PhDs. IBM created its PureFlex clusters (remember those?) and its PurePower clusters (these are still available) based on two-socket Power8 iron, and these are good for many customers (including service providers building clouds). But for other customers, using something like OpenStack to orchestrate logical partitions on a cluster of big iron makes more sense because they have relatively monolithic workloads that can’t be sharded down to smaller bits quite so easily.
So IBM is clouding up the existing Power E870 and E880 high-end NUMA machines, which have up to eight and 16 sockets respectively, by giving them integrated OpenStack cloud controller functionality, which IBM calls PowerVC, that links to the PowerVM hypervisor rather than the PowerKVM hypervisor that runs on the Linux-only Power Systems LC machines. PowerVM is the hypervisor of choice for most of IBM’s commercial customers, and is the only hypervisor (for now at least) that supports Big Blue’s own IBM i and AIX operating systems. PowerVM also, of course, supports Linux, but the Power Systems LC machines have streamlined microcode and a tuned PowerKVM hypervisor as well as little endian data formats that makes it relatively easy to port Linux applications from X86 processors.
The C-Style machines–and I am calling them C-Style instead of C-Class as IBM is doing because the word “class” refers to scale-out S-Class machines like the S814, S822, S824 and the E-Class machines like the E850, E870, and E880–are variants of the E-Class machines that have processor and memory activation prices that are, according to Steve Sibley, director of worldwide product management for IBM’s Power Systems line, somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent lower than regular E-Class systems. The E870C and E880C machines are essentially the same as the existing general-purpose Power E870 and Power E880, except that the 4.19 GHz Power8 processor is not an option on the Power E870C. The upgrade paths between machines and from older machines are the same, and the same Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) pricing is also available for them.
The expectation is that IBM will launch a C-Style machine with four sockets, called the Power E850C, that will sport a slightly faster Power8 processor and presumably lower-cost CPU and memory activations. All of this C-Style marketing is really in lieu of a Power8 upgrade, which honestly might not be worth the effort and a hell of a lot harder to bring to market than a price cut.
You can drill down into the details of the Power E870C in announcement letter 116-092 and of the Power E880C in announcement letter 116-091. The cloudy boxes allow system control applications to be created and run on the HMC consoles and integrated with various other cloud controllers like VMware‘s vRealize and UrbanCode. Interestingly, the Power Enterprise Pools, which allow for CPU core and memory activations to be passed around a cluster of high-end NUMA Power8 systems, is tweaked to be a little more flexible, as shown below:
Live Partition Mobility allows for running PowerVM partitions to be moved over the network between physical machines, and Dynamic Logical Partitioning allows for logical partitions to have their virtual CPU and memory capacity scaled up and down while applications are running. In neither case do applications have to be paused.
The Power E870C spans up to 64 cores, 16 TB of main memory, up to 96 PCI-Express 3.0 slots, and more than 3,000 disks or SSDs. The Power E880C can scale up to 192 cores, 32 TB of memory, 32 PCI-Express slot, and over 4,000 drives.
The interesting piece about this Power Enterprise Cloud setup for enterprise customers is that the C-Style machines can be ganged up to scale across 200 very large systems with a total of 5,000 logical partitions running across PowerVM on those hosts. I shudder to think about what such a monster cluster of E870C or E880C machines might cost. But it would pack a heck of a wallop with potentially quite large partitions when needed–something you cannot do on a cluster of two-socket servers.
Sibley says that the thing to focus on is not the raw list price of the servers, but on the per-core activations per day for these C-Style machines. Here is the promise:
When you look at it this way, $13 per core for a CPU that runs at 4 GHz and has 16 GB of memory activated for it doesn’t seem like a lot. The idea would be to do permanent activations for the steady state capacity and daily or hourly activations for the elastic part of the workloads.
To sweeten the C-Style deal, IBM is tossing in a full year of capacity for a medium-sized configuration of a Power8-based system on its SoftLayer cloud for free. (We told you about the Power iron on the SoftLayer cloud back in May. The Power8 C812L-M single socket server that IBM is giving away capacity on runs Linux and the PowerKVM hypervisor and does not support AIX or IBM I, so its usefulness to AIX and IBM i shops is debatable. This machine has 10 cores running at 3.49 GHz, 256 GB of memory, and two 4 TB disk drives and costs just under $20,000 to rent for a year on the SoftLayer cloud.
What IBM really needs is PowerVM machines that support IBM i and AIX on the SoftLayer cloud if it wants to encourage hybrid cloud use among its own customer base. Linux instances running on PowerVM can be quiesced and then moved from PowerVM to PowerKVM on SoftLayer, but they cannot be live migrated because the hypervisors are incompatible. It would be totally cool to be able to do live migrations between the datacenter and SoftLayer, and that would require IBM to get the same iron and systems software on both sides. It could always port IBM i and AIX to PowerKVM and be done with it–but there is no indication it plans to do that.
The C-Style Power E870C and Power E880C machines started shipping on September 29, and we can probably expect the Power E850C in the October announcements with shipments in late October or early November.