An 11-Core Power9 Makes The Rounds, And Other Hardware Enhancements
October 14, 2019 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Those of us who go way back in the IBM midrange are used to rhythm in hardware announcements. In the early days, there were several announcements per year as new processors were rolled out across the product line and new peripherals for various kinds of storage and networking were rolled out. The pace was brisk back in the day, with nearly annual processor upgrades and associated updates to systems.
These days, systems are really updated every three years or so, but still, there is the vestigial spring/fall announcement cadence when Big Blue now does Technology Refreshes for the IBM i platform – a cadence that is also exhibited by commercial Linux distributions, the OpenStack cloud controller, and other systems stacks these days. IBM was true to form last Tuesday, concurrent with its IBM Systems Technology University in Las Vegas, when it rolled out an 11-core Power9 chip for the Power S924 mainstream server and also tweaked a bunch of other peripherals. It wasn’t a blockbuster announcement, mind you, but it does bear paying attention to for Power S924 customers in particular for this Power9 processor option and for all Power Systems customers when it comes to the new flash SSDs and PCI-Express adapter cards.
In announcement letter 119-059, we see that IBM is cascading that 11-core Power9 chip down from on high into the Power S924 two-socket machine. The existing 11-core Power9 chip runs at a base frequency of 3.58 GHz and can scale up to 3.9 GHz depending on load across the cores, caches, and accelerators on the chip as it is doing work, was already announced back in August 2018 as an option for the high-end Power E980 server and was also an option on the midrange Power E950 server. As you know, the Power E950 is a four-socket server that would be a killer IBM i box, but Big Blue has decided to not make it available running that software stack and only allows AIX and Linux to run on it.
On the Power S924 machine, code-named “ZZ” after the ZZ Top country-rock band and announced in February 2018, all 11 cores on each processor feature are activated from the get-go, according to the announcement letter. I am not sure what use that will be for most IBM i shops, which tend to have a lot more I/O and storage running against fewer cores given the transaction processing nature of the workloads on these boxes. Moreover, the base frequency drops to 3.45 GHz, with a top-end range still at 3.9 GHz. With all cores fired up, this 11-core Power9 processing card costs $25,391. We estimate that the machine will deliver around 345,000 CPWs of raw throughput across a two-socket machine with 22 cores running reasonably fast. This might be good as a hybrid box, with a few cores (1, 2 or 4) dedicated to IBM i operating system and the remaining ones running Linux infrastructure workloads.
We went into the cost and performance of the entry Power8 and Power9 machines in April last year, for your reference, and we have updated the main system table to show you how it stacks up:
The 11-core processor offers nominally more transaction processing performance and slightly better bang for the buck, but it is not really all that different from the variants of the Power9 chip that come with eight, 10, or 12 cores fired up because of the thermodynamic – and unavoidable – interplay of core counts, threads, and thermals. For most IBM i shops, it makes far more sense to have fewer cores because IBM i pricing utterly dominates the overall cost of the system. You only add a lot of cores if you intend to slice up the machine into tiny bits and have more modest workloads run on them, using it as a consolidation box, in essence. The new feature #EP1H Power9 processor option with 11 cores for the Power S924 will be available on October 18.
Big Blue is also updating its 2.5-inch flash SSDs and its flash PCI-Express adapter cards for AIX/Linux and IBM i platforms. The drives are formatted differently for IBM i boxes than for AIX and Linux workloads, so they are kept separate. And in some cases, drive capacities are capped for the four-core variants of the Power S814 and Power 914 systems. So you can’t always get what you want, but you can get what you need. (At least in IBM’s estimation.) The new 2.5-inch flash SSDs come in 387 GB, 775 GB, and 1.55 TB capacities (after being formatted down from their 400 GB, 800 GB, and 1.6 TB capacities using 4 KB formatting) and can be used across the Power8 and Power9 lines, provided the systems have SFF-3 bays in the servers or SFF-2 bays in the EXP24SX expansion enclosures attached to such machines.
- Feature #ESB9, 387 GB Enterprise SAS 4K SFF-3 for IBM i: $2,175
- Feature #ESBB, 387 GB Enterprise SAS 4K SFF-2 for IBM i: $2,175
- Feature #ESBF, 775 GB Enterprise SAS 4K SFF-3 for IBM i: $3,175
- Feature #ESBH, 775 GB Enterprise SAS 4K SFF-2 for IBM i: $3,175
- Feature #ESBK, 1.55 TB Enterprise SAS 4K SFF-3 for IBM i: $5,975
- Feature #ESBM, 1.55 TB Enterprise SAS 4K SFF-2 for IBM i: $5,975
Even though the Power9 platforms can support PCI-Express 4.0 peripherals, all of the new PCI-Express flash cards that IBM is debuting here in October are based on eight lane slots (x8) of PCI-Express 3.0 interconnect, which is still good enough for a lot of uses, particularly with the flash-engineered NVM-Express protocol running atop the PCI-Express bus as these do. NVM-Express delivers lower latency and higher throughput than SATA or SAS flash SSDs do because they are speaking flash translated to disk, they are speaking native flash. These new PCI-Express flash cards are only available on Power9 systems.
- The 1.6 TB NVM-Express flash card for IBM i platforms is feature #EC6V, costing $3,099, for Power S914, Power S924, and Power H924 servers, while #EC6U, costing $4,059 is for the Power E980.
- Feature #EC6X, costing $6,099, for the low-end machines and feature #EC6W, costing $7,989, for the Power E980 doubles up the capacity to 3.2 TB for IBM i platforms.
- Feature #EC6Z, costing $12,099, for the low-end machines and feature #EC6Y, costing $15,848, for the Power E980 doubles up the capacity again to 6.4 TB for IBM i platforms.
Incidentally, the 3.2 TB and 6.4 TB flash adapter cards are not allowed in Power S914 systems with four cores or fewer.