IBM Tweaks More Power Systems Peripherals
November 30, 2016 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It takes a bit of time to drill down into the annual Power Systems announcements from Big Blue, which in the case of this year happened across September and October. We have told you all about the new systems, such as they are, and updated IBM i 7.2 and 7.3 software releases, as well as various other components. In this week’s installment, we are going to drill down into some of the new peripheral cards that IBM is putting into the Power Systems iron.
First up is a new cryptographic accelerator, called by the unwieldy name of the PCIe Cryptographic Adapter 4767, which is known as feature #EJ32 or #EJ33 in the Power Systems line. This adapter card, which is based on a similar card that was announced for X86 servers and for System z mainframes back in April, has about twice the cryptographic oomph as the feature #EJ27, #EJ28, and #EJ29 cards that it replaces in the Power Systems line. The new card supports a greater number of encryption and hashing methods, too, and now works with Linux operating systems as well as the AIX and IBM i operating systems that were supported on earlier crypto cards. It is not clear who makes these crypto accelerators for Big Blue, but the company was telling customers back in private briefings back in early October that only 200 of the older crypto cards were available worldwide and that they were being rapidly removed from marketing and replaced with the feature #EJ32 and #EJ33 adapter cards. (IBM can’t get the crypto chips used in the cards from the vendor anymore.)
The new Crypto Adapter 4767 supports the following functions as an offload from the Power8 processors used in modern Power Systems machines:
The Crypto Adapter 4767 is supported by IBM i 7.2 and 7.3, AIX 6.1, 7.1, and 7.2, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5. Within a PowerVM environment, RHEL 7.2 and Ubuntu Server 16.04 are both supported. The PowerKVM hypervisor for Power Systems LC machines is not supported. The crypto adapter can be used on Power8 machines with Firmware 860 level or higher flashed on them. The new cards are not apparently supported on older iron, hence the scramble to get the earlier crypto cards. IBM has released detailed performance metrics for the new card, which you can see here. The Crypto Adapter 4767 costs $12,000 a pop, so you really need to be doing a lot of this kind of processing before it makes sense to offload it from the Power8 cores to this adapter. The prior generation Crypto Adapter 4765 cards cost $9,250 each, so there is a big price increase, but again, the performance is higher and the coverage of protocols is wider, too.
IBM is also now shipping the ConnectX-4 100 Gb/sec Ethernet adapters, which are made by Mellanox Technologies, for the Power Systems line. This feature #EC3M and #EC3L adapter set has a pair of QSFP28 ports and it plugs into a single PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slot in the server. RHEl 7.2 and its CentOS clone as well as Ubuntu Server 16.04 are supported with this adapter, as are AIX 6.2, 7.1, and 7.2; IBM i is only supported through the Virtual I/O Server (VIOS). This adapter has a lot more potential throughput than the dual-ported ConnectX-3 40 Gb/sec Ethernet adapter, but IBM warns that driving two ports at 100 Gb/sec takes a lot of processor cores and virtualization adds even more overhead, so don’t expect to get 100 Gb/sec of bandwidth into and out of the server as a practical matter. These 100 Gb/sec Ethernet cards cost $3,990, and the cables for them are not cheap. Passive copper cables ranging from a half meter to two meters range in price from $350 to $519. Active optical cables that range from 3 meters to 100 meters in length cost from $1,280 to $3,990. By the way, this card is labeled as an Ethernet card, but as far as I know, the ConnectX cards always support two protocols, InfiniBand and Ethernet. But the cables for Ethernet are different in that the InfiniBand cables have an additional signal connection and they are not compatible even though they have the same port transceivers.
IBM has also enhanced the PCIe NVMe Flash Adapter, which is known by feature #EC54, #EC55, #EC56, and #EC57 in the Power Systems product catalog. This adapter, which launched on April 12 and started shipping on May 27, comes in 1.6 TB and 3.2 TB capacities and was supported on Power Systems S812L, S822L, S824L, S814, S822, S824, E870, E870C, E880, and E880C machines, and is now supported on the E850 and E850C models. It can now also be a boot device for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and can operate in bare metal fashion, using Power NV mode, on the Power Systems S812L, S822L, and S824L.
This updated flash adapter can also be used for SAP HANA Rapid Start. This is important because when you take a server down for maintenance to patch the operating system, on a disk-based system as soon as the machine is fired up, it can start accessing data and doing queries. With an in-memory database, you can’t start doing queries until a flash image of the data that was stored temporarily in memory is pulled back into that main memory. IBM has come up with a flash as cache technique to speed up the reloading of HANA in memory databases. Having NVM-Express support–which allows for the flash drive to be linked directly to the compute complex over the PCI-Express bus rather than through a controller that hangs on that bus and then talks to the compute complex–radically speeds up the time it takes to move data from flash to main memory, as you can see in the chart above.
Incidentally, we hear that IBM apparently is thinking about doing an SAP HANA promotion where customers can get a bunch of these 1.6 TB versions of this card for free if they buy a new Power Systems E870, E870C, E880, and E880C. These NVM-Express flash units cost $10,478 on these enterprise-class boxes, and with E870 and E870C customers getting two freebies and E880 and E880C customers getting four freebies, this quickly adds up to real money. We have not seen this deal announced, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already happened.