Various Power Systems Updates And Tweaks
October 25, 2021 Timothy Prickett Morgan
While many IBM i shops have a lot of their core applications on that platform, there are lots of shops that deploy Windows Server for adjacent databases and applications and in other cases some shops have AIX or Linux as well. Windows Server doesn’t run on Power iron, of course, which we have always thought was a shame and still is almost two decades since Windows had a brief showing on Power before Microsoft and IBM pulled the plug.
But the important thing, here in 2021, is that customers have alternatives if they need certain applications and they want to run them on Power, which is why AIX and Linux support are important for the health and wealth of the Power Systems platform. With IBM owning Red Hat now, we talk quite a bit more about Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the OpenShift container platform that lays on top of it then we do other non-IBM i operating systems. But SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is still important, and obviously so is continued enhancements to IBM’s AIX platform.
In announcement letter 221-302 last week, we see that German-based SUSE Software has been working with IBM to get its updated software certified on Power10 iron, among other things. SUSE, which was sold off to private equity company EQT Partners in March 2019 for $2.54 billion after being owned by Micro Focus, Attachmate, and Novell (as you travel back in time to 2003), went public on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in May this year. The company had $450 million in revenues in 2020 and is growing. It is an important platform for supporting SAP HANA in-memory databases, particularly among European companies.
SLES 12, which first shipped in November 2014, is available supporting the Power10 processor in Power9 mode as well as supporting Power8 and Power9 chips in native mode. If you want to run Power10 in native mode and get all of the performance and features, then you have to deploy SLES 15, which was first released in July 2018. Both SLES 12 and SLES 15 are updated on a more or less monthly schedule and are also available under Long Term Support Services (LTSS) support contracts, which provide a decade of total support time for each release. (This is similar to what Big Blue does for IBM i and what Red Hat does for Enterprise Linux.)
As part of the rollout of Power10 support, SUSE Software is making some packaging changes for its SLES 12 for Power and SLES 15 for Power packaging. SLES 12 is available as a one-year subscription for up to two sockets with unlimited virtual machines across those one or two sockets, with live patching of the operating system included. SLES 15 has subscriptions for one, three, or five years with the same parameters. With the SLES for SAP Applications variation of the SLES 15 stack, all of these package options are the same, but customers have the choice of having support provided by either IBM or SUSE. (By the way, SLES for SAP Applications is not supported on any single-socket Power Systems machines or any of the LC variants of the Power8 and Power9 iron.) These packaging tweaks went into effect on October 22.
In announcement letter 221-328, IBM unveiled enhancements to AIX 7.3 Standard Edition, which will support the Power10 processor and which will be available on December 10. The key enhancement is that the AIX kernel now supports a single image with up to 240 cores – the maximum in the sixteen-socket Power E1080 system announced back in September – and 1,920 threads across those cores. The kernel has also been tweaked to support the native Matrix Math Accelerator (MMA) math units, which provide mixed precision matrix math processing that is used for machine learning training and inference and which we suspect will be important for HPC applications at some point, too.
On the hardware front, there are a few small things that IBM has done in recent weeks with regards to Power Systems.
In announcement letter 121-074, IBM is providing a new 512 GB memory feature (which has four 128 GB CDIMMs) for the Power9-based Power E980 server, the prior high-end machine before the Power E1080 was announced. IBM also says that the ConnectX-6 Dx network adapters from Nvidia (out of its Mellanox Technologies acquisition), which support either the InfiniBand or the Ethernet protocol and which come with two ports running at 100 Gb/sec, are now available on Power9 and Power10 systems.
IBM is also supporting three different Fibre Channel adapter cards from Marvell, which bought the Fibre Channel adapter business from QLogic some time ago. One adapter has two ports and one has four ports running at 16 Gb/sec speeds, and the third has four ports running at 32 Gb/sec.
One important note: Buried in announcement letter 221-330, we found this statement about that ConnectX-6 Dx adapter card:
Db2 Mirror for I (Db2 Mirror) is enhanced to take advantage of the NVIDIA Mellanox ConnectX-6 Dx adapter (feature EC77 and feature EC78). The adapter provides Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) encryption offload and RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) 2.0 capabilities, which enables Db2 Mirror traffic to be secured with minimal impact to the system processor usage. The RoCE 2.0 capability enables the Db2 Mirror traffic to now support routing on the network. This gives more flexibility to the types of configurations and distances that Db2 Mirror can support. The adapter can be supported on both Power9 and Power10 configurations. Additionally, the ObjectConnect function has been enhanced to run on RoCE and take advantage of the increased performance on Db2 Mirror configurations. The support is enabled with the Db2 Mirror Group PTF SF99668 level 15.
Let’s hope IBM makes some important Power Systems announcements soon. We can’t have no activity between now and May or June next year.