Sundry Power Systems Enhancements Round Out The Year
October 15, 2018 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It is the fall – autumn if you speak formally as my British friends do – and that means Big Blue has some peripheral announcements to make to finish up the 2018 season.
In announcement letter 218-346, perhaps the most important development is that the PowerVM server virtualization hypervisor has a new update, V3.1, that supports the Power9 processor. We would have thought that this had happened already, way back when the first Power9 iron was announced back in February, but go figure. It may be that this release of PowerVM is the first one that is tuned to run in conjunction with the Power9 that exploits all of its features to the fullest. No matter. Either way, IBM i shops looking at migrating Power9 iron are probably not ready to buy until now anyway, and IBM has the software keyed up.
PowerVM is not just used for IBM i logical partitioning, of course, and supports slices of the server running AIX and Linux as well. The updated PowerVM comes in a Linux Edition that runs on Power7+, Power8, Power8+, and Power9 machines, while Standard Edition can host any of the three operating systems and do so only on Power7+ and Power8 machinery. (Hmmm.) If you want to run PowerVM V3.1 on Power9 iron and support either AIX or IBM i on it, you have to get the Enterprise Edition of the software; you can also run PowerVM V3.1 on Power7+, Power8, and Power8+ machines. (You wouldn’t run it on the Power8+ systems because those were only aimed at supercomputer clusters equipped with Nvidia GPU accelerators. Unless IBM actually added GPU acceleration for the Db2 for i database. Which it has not. Even though we have suggested it. Ahem.)
The big update with PowerVM V3.1 is support for Power9, but IBM has made other enhancements to its hypervisor. This includes using on-chip coprocessors to encrypt and compress virtual machines before they are passed between physical servers during Live Partition Mobility live migration. This doesn’t just secure the VMs as they move, but also speeds up the live migration thanks to the data compression and despite the overhead of encryption and compression on one machine and decompression and decryption on the other machine. The update also includes a companion V3.1 update to the Virtual I/O Server, which is a peripheral virtualization layer that works in conjunction with PowerVM. VIOS now runs natively on Power8 and Power9 chips and also has support for iSCSI storage for AIX and Linux and storage multi-pathing. The PowerVC implementation of the OpenStack cloud controller has also been updated to the “Queens” release of that open source project with a 1.4.2 release, which can now control hypervisors on Power9 iron; the database as a service offering that was in tech preview with PowerVC has been removed.
Not that this matters directly for IBM i, in announcement letter 218-006, Big Blue has created a Power Systems Enterprise Cloud Edition that preconfigures the IBM software stack for cloud for AIX and Linux machines – PowerSC Standard Edition, PowerSC Multi-Factor Authentication, PowerVC Manager for SDI, VM Recovery Manager HA, Aspera High-Speed Transfer Endpoint 100 Mbps, BigFix LifeCycle, and IBM Cloud App Management Base and IBM Cloud Management Console – all bundled together for AIX and Linux. There is an AIX superbundle that adds this Unix operating system to the stack. Power8 and Power9 servers are supported. Our point is that this is about as close to an AS/400-IBM i style of integrated system that Linux or AIX shops can get from IBM for infrastructure stacks. IBM is not being very aggressive about bundling databases and datastores with such stacks. While the PowerVC OpenStack can, in theory, control IBM i instances, we do not suspect it is popular as such and we have never heard of anyone deploying it for this purpose. (If you have done it, we would love to hear all about it.)
On the hardware front, there are a bunch of things that are relevant to Power Systems that IBM put into the product catalog last week.
One that affects big Power Systems shops is a new zippier Elastics Capacity On Demand. In announcement letter 118-097, IBM is not allowing customers to download activation codes for ECoD core and gigabyte days and immediately activate them through the Hardware Management Console. This takes the provisioning of temporary capacity down from days to minutes, providing a more cloud-like experience and making it as useful.
IBM made some networking announcements last week, too, which it seems to do at a fairly steady pace. IBM got out of the switch business when it sold off the System x business to Lenovo three years ago, but it still partners so it can deliver switches in Power Systems setups. In announcement letter 118-078, IBM is reselling a 32 port switch with 100 Gb/sec ports, with 300 nanosecond a port-to-port latency hop. This is pretty good latency, as Ethernet goes, which tends to have latency of 300 nanoseconds to 450 nanoseconds for datacenter-class switches. The switch ports can support 10 Gb/sec, 40 Gb/sec, 50 Gb/sec, and 100 Gb/sec speeds, and you can obviously use cable splitters to create more ports at lower speeds if that floats your boat. The Ethernet switch, which is made by IBM OpenPower partner Mellanox Technologies, is sold as product 8831-00M in the IBM product catalog and it costs $21,499. The top of rack switch, part of the Spectrum line at Mellanox, will be available on November 2.
For those companies who want 100 Gb/sec networking on the server side – which admittedly is not a lot of IBM i shops, but maybe some who have latency and bandwidth issues in their mix of systems that includes Power Systems – IBM has rolled out a bunch of new network interface cards, in announcement letter 118-098, which we presume also come from Mellanox. These include:
- Features #EC66 and #EC67, which are two-port 100 Gb/sec cards that plug into the PCI-Express 4.0 x8 slots in the scale-out Power9 systems in the Power Systems line; they cost $3,990 a pop.
- Feature #EC3L, which is a two-port 100 Gb/sec card for the Power E980 that plugs into a PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slot; it costs $5,226.
- Feature #EN17, which is a four-port 10 Gb/sec card for the Power E950 and Power E980 servers that plugs into a PCI-Express 3.0 x8 slot; it costs $2,300 for the Power E950 and $3,013 for the Power E980.
- Feature #EN18 which is a four-port 10 Gb/sec card with copper cables for the Power E980 that plugs into a PCI-Express 3.0 x8 slot; it also costs $3,013.
These network interface cards will be available on November 16.