Big Power News On The Horizon, And Some Other Stuff For Now
August 19, 2019 Timothy Prickett Morgan
We are awaiting a bunch of things coming out of Big Blue with regard to the Power Systems line, but the engineers are always tweaking the product line to meet customer demand even after things have been shipping for a while. So it is with the “Fleetwood” Power E980 system that IBM debuted last summer using the “Cumulus” 12-core, heavy thread variant of the Power9 processor family and the Enterprise Pool CPU capacity pooling software that runs on enterprise-class Power Systems iron.
But before we get into all of that, a reminder of what we are expecting to see from IBM soon. First, Big Blue is at the Hot Chips this week at Stanford University and will be divulging its plans for the Power10 processor, due in late 2020 or early 2021 according to the latest chatter on the street. We will be there, taking notes like crazy and reporting back to you with great joy. Moreover, we are expecting IBM to soon debut the kicker to the Power9 processor – it is not a Power9+ but rather a Power9′ – that makes use of the OpenCAPI interface and the on-chip SERDES communication circuits to create a fast, buffered memory architecture that is more streamlined than the way the “Centaur” memory buffer and L4 cache chip was implemented on all Power8 processors and the high-end Power9 processors going into big NUMA boxes like the Power E950 and the Power E980. That Power9′ chip – that’s a prime symbol not an apostrophe – is only expected to be delivered for Linux-based machines and possibly only for those that support GPU acceleration using Tesla cards from Nvidia. This is a beta test of ideas that will be productized across the Power10 lineup. We’ll be keep an eye on all of this. If you want to get the downlow on this OpenCAPI Memory Interface, take a look at this story we did last year when IBM was hinting about it. You can also take a gander at an interview I did with Bill Starke, the lead architect of the Power10 processor, in advance of Hot Chips over at our sister publication, The Next Platform. IBM will be talking about Power9′ at Hot Chips this week.
We have also caught wind of some very exiting Power news that is coming our way and are trying to get the inside scoop on that. So stay tuned.
Now, back to the current news. In announcement letter 119-052, IBM is now offering processing feature on the Power E980, which offers a different balance of compute, memory capacity, and memory bandwidth than the current lineup. At the moment, IBM has four different Cumulus chips that it sells in the Power E980. And now it is adding another processor with fewer cores that has a lower price point for processor cards and core activations and yet pretty good performance per core, thus helping to better bridge the gap between the Power E950 and the Power E980. This is important because the four-socket Power E950 does not support the IBM i operating system, and the smallest processor option that customers can buy has eight cores per chip and four sockets per node for 128 cores on a fully loaded Power E980 machine with 16 sockets or 32 cores on a single chassis, 64 cores on a dual chassis, and 96 cores on a triple chassis.
Beginning on August 23, IBM will start shipping a six-core Cumulus process that has a base speed of 3.58 GHz and a turbo speed of 3.9 GHz. This processor will support IBM i, AIX, or Linux and enable a four-socket node to scale to only 24 cores, and that works out to 96 cores in a full Power E980 system. We do not know what IBM is charging for the higher end processor features in the E980, but Big Blue did give out the pricing on this one, which is $25,000 for the feature EFP0 feature card plus $2,000 to activate a core to run Linux or $5,000 to activate a core to run either AIX or IBM i. The Capacity BackUp variant of this new processor card costs half the full price, at $12,500. This new processor feature has Capacity on Demand (COD) pricing available on a per-day or per-minute basis, and can be used across Enterprise Pools as well. IBM says that the new card costs less than the other processor features used in the Power E980 system. We did not know the pricing of the Power E980 processor options when they were announced last August, but we have found them and they are outlined in the table below along with the new processor feature:
As usual, you have to pay for the base feature card and then pay an additional fee to activate a core on that card. The table above shows the relative performance based on base clock speed times the number of cores activated in the full four-socket processor card feature. The full price is for all of the cores to be activated in that processor feature card and this gives as a very rough relative price/performance. (I did not have CPW ratings for the new card, but you can use this as a proxy until IBM releases them.)
As you can see, the new six-core processor option does indeed bring down the capital outlay as well as provide better bang for the buck. It’s about 3 percent better price performance for the six-core Power9 card compared to the eight-core card, but the important thing is that the price/performance is more than twice as good as on the high-end, full-bore 48-core card running at 3.55 GHz and the cash outlay is less than half that of the eight-core card to get started in the Power E980. A base $25,000 price plus $5,000 per core is a good option for customers who were wishing they could run IBM i on the Power E950 but can’t.
Not that many IBM i customers need this much memory, but each processor feature card can address up to 16 TB of main memory, which is a lot. It would be over $2 million at list price to do so – about $717,000 for the memory cards and another $1.3 million for memory activations. Skinnier memory costs a lot less than the 256 GB Centaur DIMMs that were priced up there, but it is a safe rule of thumb that memory should cost as much as processing and disk storage in a machine that does not have a lot of flash. If you are spending less than that on memory, you are probably not giving your system enough memory to actually make use of Power9 capacity. Don’t skimp on the memory or you may as well buy a less capacious and powerful machine and let your applications thrash.
In a separate but related development, in announcement letter 119-057, IBM is now allowing high end Power Systems shops that don’t have the latest Enterprise Pools 2.0 to upgrade into a Power E980 and to also upgrade to the new capacity pooling scheme all at the same time. They make the jump in the hardware first and then add the new pooling.