IBM Preps Power9 “ZZ” Systems For Imminent Launch
February 12, 2018 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In last Monday’s issue of The Four Hundred, I told you that the market was getting restless for the rollout of the mainstream servers based on the Power9 processor, and Jenny Thomas, our publisher, commented on our @ITJungleNews Twitter feed that it was also me that was getting restless. Indeed, I am. My iron level is getting low, I suppose.
Well, the good news for both you and me is that the “ZZ” variants of the Power Systems platforms, which we talked about last week based on the chatter we have been hearing, are coming sooner rather than later. Like real soon. We had heard through the grapevine that it would be during the first quarter, and we surmised that it might be during IBM’s Think 2018 customer and partner event in Las Vegas, which runs from March 19 through 22. But IBM apparently has enough Power9 chips coming back from the GlobalFoundries lab in Malta, New York, that it can start peddling more than the Power AC922 hybrid CPU-GPU supercomputer node that debuted last December. Enough volumes, in fact, that it can branch out to the higher volume IBM i and AIX systems that, frankly, are the most important ones to readers of this newsletter.
The word we hear is that IBM will announce them on February 13, with performance data based on the Commercial Performance Workload (CPW) benchmark for IBM i and the Relative Performance (rPerf) benchmark for AIX machines coming out on February 27. Apparently, IBM is not ready with all the speeds even if it has the feeds and the slots and the watts. IBM for formally launch the ZZ systems on March 19 – what this is distinct from an announcement is beyond me – and the boxes will, we hear, start shipping on March 20.
This February 13 announcement is later than we had expected this time last year, but earlier than we expected based on the revised expectations that Big Blue signaled last spring at the COMMON conference and expo. Back then, IBM told customers not to expect IBM i And AIX to be running on Power9 systems until early 2018, by which we presumed meant in March or April ahead of this year’s COMMON event. COMMON has been rebranded PowerUp 2018, in case you didn’t know, and is being held in San Antonio from May 20 through 23. Traditionally, IBM makes its announcements just ahead of COMMON so it has something interesting to talk about. Our guess is that the ZZ systems will be the talk of the Think 2018 show, which starts in a month, and that the Technology Refresh for IBM i 7.2 and 7.3 and possibly the launch of IBM i 7.4 will come in late March or early April, well ahead of the PowerUp event. Launch, then talk seems to be the order of operations.
As far as we know, IBM will be launching analogs to the current Power8-based Power S814, Power S822, and Power S824 machines, and Big Blue is keeping the naming conventions on these machines and that means there will be a Power S914 with a single socket in a 4U rack-mounted chassis; a two socket Power S922 with a 2U chassis and not much room for storage expansion; and a two socket Power S924 that comes in that 4U chassis. IBM can make fat core chips with 12 cores with SMT8 (eight threads per core) simultaneous hyperthreading or skinny core chips with 24 cores with SMT4 (four threads per core) out of either a “Nimbus” Power9 scale up or a “Cumulus” Power9 scale up processor, and the word we hear is that IBM will be doing the fat core chips with the ZZ systems that run the PowerVM hypervisor and the IBM i, AIX, and big endian Linux operating systems from Red Hat and SUSE Linux.
IBM is also apparently going to create a Linux-only Power S922L version of this machine, which has the OPAL microcode that IBM co-developed with Google and the OpenKVM hypervisor on it. This machine cannot run IBM i or AIX, which are also big endian, or the versions of Linux that are big ending, but it will be able to run the little endian versions of Linux that are certified on Power architectures, which includes Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Canonical Ubuntu Server.
What I have not heard anything about is a Power S912 Mini, which would presumably come with one or maybe two cores activated and replace the Power S812 Mini entry machine with its discounted pricing and P05 IBM i software tier. There will apparently be a Power S914 machine that comes with a four-core Power9 chip and that is capped at a mere 64 GB of main memory and that does not have much in the way of I/O expansion features, replacing the four-core Power S814 based on the Power8 chip and with the same limitations on memory and I/O. We presume this machine will have a P05 software tier.
Whatever IBM does, we will give you a first pass on the announcements in the Wednesday issue of The Four Hundred and provide detailed analysis in the subsequent weeks. Stay tuned.