Boston Power9s Set To Debut
May 14, 2018 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The Power9 systems aimed at data ingest and data analytics, code-named “Boston” after the band from Beantown that features what is arguably the tightest album side in classic rock music, are now out and will be available by the end of the month. These are Linux-only machines, and like some of the prior LC models (short for Linux Cluster, not Low Cost as I keep thinking it means) based on Power8 processors, these were created by Supermicro and are resold by IBM as well as being sold by Supermicro in its SuperServer line.
IBM is, of course, Supermicro’s biggest customer and sources machines from that company in its IBM Cloud public cloud, formerly known as SoftLayer. The two worked out a development effort for inexpensive (well, relatively so) Power8 machines based on SuperServer enclosures and custom motherboards, which Supermicro has a slew of experience creating. (Supermicro makes motherboards like the rest of us make dinner.) While the new Boston machines, known as the Power LC921 and Power LC922, cannot run IBM i – there is no technical reason why they can’t, other than the fact that Big Blue has not ported IBM i to run on top of the OpenKVM server virtualization hypervisor that it has created for scale out Linux clusters – they still might be useful to IBM i shops who want to create Power-based systems of engagement that complement their Power-based systems of record. (It would be nicer if all machines could run all workloads, and then a cluster could just move work around as necessary. Maybe someday IBM will get it.)
The funny bit about the Power LC921 and LC922 machines is that in the presentations that IBM itself put together, it looks like IBM actually showed off the SuperServer enclosures, which have pink and yellow latches on their disk drives:
The server images on the IBM homepage for these machines have the IBM logo and blue latches on them, but they look like Supermicro machines.
The Power LC921 and Power LC922 machines have a bare bones motherboard, at least compared to the IBM-designed motherboards used in the “ZZ” Power S922 and Power S924 systems that came out in March. Take a look:
There is not a lot of stuff in there, and it is so by design to keep the costs low and the thermals within a sane range in these two relatively tight 1U and 2U boxes. IBM says that the Power LC921, which is as the name suggests the smaller 1U chassis, is intended to be used as a front end data ingest engine, which does preprocessing, perhaps used in an open source Kafka cluster. The fatter Power LC922 comes in a 2U chassis with more storage and is aimed at Hadoop batch processing or Spark in-memory processing as well as storage workloads such as MongoDB, Redis, or Cassandra. All of this is open source software, and all of it is the default for web startups that are coping with a lot of data. (Or some analogous solution is.) These companies want cheap but powerful servers to go with their free and powerful software.
Both of these machines use the “Nimbus” variant of the Power9 chip, which has simultaneous multithreading that scales to four threads per core and a top-end 24 cores per chip. IBM is not getting good enough yield to offer that 24 core version yet, but some supercomputers are getting the 22 core versions. For the low-end, low-cost Power LC921, IBM is supporting a 16 core chip that runs at 2.2 GHz in a 140 watt thermal envelope; this processor card costs $1,999 with all of the cores activated. IBM also has a 20 core version that runs at 2.13 GHz at 160 watts, which costs $2,599. Each Power9 chip has eight memory controllers working, for a total of eight memory sticks per socket. Main memory and flash are crazy expensive on these machines, as is the case for all servers. So it can mount up pretty high pretty fast. But you can get a disk-based machine with two of the faster 20 core chips, 512 GB of memory, and four 10 TB drives for just under $33,000 at list price.
The Power LC922 is the same system board with different Nimbus processor options and room to add a dozen 3.5-inch drives or two dozen 2.5-inch drives. This is used for data crunching, not preprocessing, and so the processors have more cores and run faster. IBM is offering a 16 core Nimbus running at 2.9 GHz, costing $2,399; a 20 core running at 2.7 GHz, costing $2,799; and a 22 core running at 2.6 GHz, costing $2,999. All cores are activated on those processor cards. Memory prices are a bit higher on this machine in some cases, but not hugely so. Loaded up with six 10 TB disks and four 3.2 TB NVM-Express flash drives, and 1 TB of memory and to top-end processors will set you back more than $88,000 at list price – but mind you, that is 44 cores of Power9 oomph. If you ditch the NVM-Express flash and go all disk (perhaps for Hadoop or Cassandra), then it is about $46,000 for the machine. That flash ain’t cheap.
The Power LC921 and Power LC922 machines will be available on May 25. The machines can run Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.5 for Power in the little endian version or Ubuntu Server 18.04 LTS, which is also little endian.