IBM Revamps Entry Power Servers With Expanded I/O, Utility Pricing
July 14, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Believe it or not, but it has been two and a half years since the first Power9 server shipped and it has been more than two years since the entry Power Systems machines – that would be the Power S914, the Power S922, and the Power S924 machines, code-named “ZZ” after the country-rock-blues band from Houston – were first announced. And today, these machines are getting an I/O makeover.
And specially for IBM i shops, IBM is rolling out a single-core version of the Power S922 that will offer better bang for the buck as well as lower acquisition cost than the single-core Power S812 that Big Blue has been selling for a couple of years now and which just got its third stay of execution. Additionally, IBM is extending the flexible utility pricing it started offering back in May for the Power E950 midrange and Power E980 high-end systems to the entry Power S922 and Power S924 machines.
Dylan Boday, director of product offering management for scale out systems within IBM’s Cognitive Systems division, walked us through the changes to the Power9 machines. We will drill into the details as we get more information, but in the meantime we will tell you what we know.
Let’s start with the enhancements to the entry Power9 machines. IBM, of course, is pitching these machines as part of its hybrid cloud story, but ironically, customers will be able to buy these I/O-enhanced entry Power9 machines for on-premises use before they are available on the IBM Cloud. But we think that IBM will eventually deploy these machines on its own cloud, and for reasons that will be obvious in a second.
The original versions of the Power9 entry machines have a “A” designation in their model name, while the new I/O-enhanced versions have a “G” designation, which is how you can keep them straight. If we were IBM, we would roll out the G versions on the cloud with instances bearing that name and rebrand the older ones with the A label and cut their price because their I/O capability will be substantially reduced, particularly with regard to the number of NVM-Express drives that can be attached to the A machines relative to the G machines.
To help us understand the differences between the A and G machines, Boday generously gave us three tables that show the differences between the Power S914, Power S922, and Power S924 machines. And as a reminder, the 9 is the CPU generation, and the next number in the product name tells you number of sockets, and the third number tells you the number of rack units of height the machine has, which is a relative measure of I/O and storage capacity.
In general, IBM is removing legacy PCI-Express 3.0 peripheral slots and is going entirely to PCI-Express 4.0 peripherals, which we frankly expected the company to do with the Power9’ kicker that we expected to be announced sporting new memory technologies and that we have still not seen. The move to PCI-Express 4.0 allows for Big Blue to attach more NVM-Express drives to the systems, which are far more efficient than using SATA or SAS flash drives and which have also been radically reduced in cost, making them a viable replacement for disk-based storage. Here are the feeds and speeds of the Power S914 A and G systems:
It is interesting that IBM has withdrawn the NVM-Express M.2 flash stick memory form factor from the A series machines and replaced them with the four NVM-Express U.2 form factors. We like the M.2 form factors for hosting operating system images, and they are inexpensive relative to the U.2 form factors, which are more like a traditional SSD in size and shape. They must not be up to reliability snuff for mission critical systems is all we can guess here; the hyperscalers love these things, but all of their software and storage is replicated, so they don’t worry about a failure in one system.
The number of PCI-Express slots remains the same, they just run twice as fast where the PCI-Express 3.0 slots are replaced. (A 16 lane, or x16, slot runs at 32 GB/sec with PCI-Express 4.0 compared to 16 GB/sec with PCI-Express 3.0.)
Here is how the Power S922 A and G machines stack up:
As you can see, lowering the number of rack units of space really cramps the I/O and storage expansion.
And here is the comparison of the A and G models of the Power S924:
The most exciting news for many IBM i shops with relatively modest capacity needs is that there is a new Power S922 in a single core variant with a 64 GB memory cap that essentially replaces the Power S812 that has had its life extended for several years now. IBM never did launch a Power S912, so this fills that gap. We don’t have the precise specs yet, but here is what we know:
According to Boday, the total cost of acquisition for the single-core version of the Power S922, which in the P05 software tier, will be about 10 percent lower than the price of the existing Power S812 – presumably with NVM-Express rather than disk storage in both cases – and will offer twice as much performance, as gauged by IBM’s Commercial Performance Workload (CPW) benchmark test. And thanks to the PCI-Express 4.0 enhancements, it will also have twice as much I/O capacity as well. It is a bit odd that IBM didn’t double up the main memory capacity to 128 GB, given this, but IBM doesn’t want this machine to be perfectly balanced. It wants customers who have a larger memory footprint to buy a more capacious – and more expensive – system.
The interesting bit about this machine is that it will also have that per minute, flexible utility pricing method, where you pay for the base machine for a relatively low price and then consume excess capacity of compute, memory, and storage in a metered fashion, which Boday says can lower the initial total acquisition costs by around 79 percent. We are looking forward to getting the feeds and speeds on that comparison to analyze that.
By the way, this single-core Power S922 variant aimed at IBM i shops will support IBM i natively – without the need for the Virtual I/O Server. Which is good news to a lot of IBM i customers who don’t need or want this AIX intermediary on their machine sitting between IBM i and its peripherals as a virtualization engine.
Also, as we went to press, Steve Will, the IBM i chief architect, was on vacation, but he passed us this note about the new systems:
On July 14, several new IBM Power Systems announcements are happening, and to support those announcements, the IBM i 7.4 TR2 PTF Group (SF99737 PTF Group Level 2) and the IBM i 7.3 TR8 PTF Group (SF99727 PTF Group Level 8) will be made available on July 17.
The new TR PTF Groups support the new “G” models of the IBM Power S924, S914 and S922, including the 1-core S922 offering requested by many of our clients and partners.
These systems have Gen4 PCIe and Gen4 NVMe slots, so support for new devices and their use in those systems is also included in the PTF Groups. And, the IBM i tape virtualization that was announced in the spring is now bundled in the TR PTF Group.
As for future Technology Refreshes, it is our intent to go back to normal; i.e., we expect to announce TRs and make TR PTF Groups available very close to one another. However, it’s certainly possible that, at some point in the future, we will need to separate them again. If that happens, we will be more clear about what clients should expect to see.
We would like to thank Will for that update. We all appreciate it.
And we will drill into the details in future issues of The Four Hundred.