The Power10 Machines That Will Take IBM i To 2025
July 12, 2022 Timothy Prickett Morgan
IBM i shops that have been waiting for an upgrade path that will take them to the other half of this decade do not have to wait any longer. Finally, after a change of foundry (to Samsung) and process technology (from 10 nanometers down to 7 nanometers) as well as a new implementation of the Power instruction set packed with all kinds of vector and matrix math goodies that are perfect for embedding AI into commercial applications, Big Blue is ready to start shipping the entry and midrange Power Systems machines based on the Power10 processor.
We made it, despite the kinks in the development cycle and the supply chain having to do with the coronavirus pandemic. And now, we can start the detailed analysis of the new platforms that we so enjoy doing on your behalf. But more importantly, these machines have the technology that will have them in the IBM product catalog for the next three or four years and that will be technically and economically viable probably into 2030.
Not that we think IBM is not designing a Power11 chip and thinking about what Power12 might be, but if that all changed, the Power Systems base could easily make it to 2030 or maybe even 2035 with what IBM is now able to put into the field with the Power10 entry, midrange, and high-end systems. The only thing Big Blue might have to change is to allow the new four-socket Power E1050 to run the IBM i operating system, which sadly – and despite our entreaties to the contrary – it does not. That’s an easy enough fix, and with this beast, which uses dual-chip processor modules, a very capacious IBM i machine could be built.
Our point here is not to undermine the long-term viability of the Power Systems platform for the 120,000-strong IBM i customer base. Rather on the contrary. We want to emphasize that no matter what Big Blue does, we are good in terms of hardware for a long, long time. And as yields improve on Samsung’s 7 nanometer chip making process and more of the circuits inherent on the Power10 die work, IBM has a lot more compute and cache capacity that will be able to be brought to bear, too. In many cases, only 4 or 8 of the cores on the 16-core Power10 die are activated in a socket; in some cases, there are 10 cores or 12 cores out of the 16 cores that are working.
Given all of this, we think Power10 chips will be in the field a long time, and maybe for the next four years officially and perhaps longer if IBM seems to not be in a hurry to spend a lot of money developing the Power11 chip, which will include a process shrink to 5 nanometers or maybe even 3 nanometers (probably the latter by 2025 or 2026, but maybe not if IBM plans to hang back one process generation).
With this in mind, we are going to take our time and really analyze these new Power10 machines over the next couple of weeks. But to get going, let’s take a broad view of the new systems, starting with the entry machines:
The naming conventions and packaging of the Power10 machines will look familiar – you just replace the “9” in the Power9 systems from 2018 with a “10” with the Power10 systems from 2022. There are two other differences: IBM is not creating special variants of machines for the with an “H” designation designed to run SAP’s HANA in-memory database with special tweaks and pricing, and there is not a Power AC1022 follow-on to the “Witherspoon” system that was the basis of IBM’s GPU-accelerated Power9 machines sold in its supercomputer clusters. IBM is no longer intent on chasing these HPC centers as it was with Power9, and part of it is because it didn’t make any money on this business. It is in fact better for IBM to focus on its IBM i and AIX customers and treat them well.
The Power S1014 is the entry machine, and because we know a lot of you are wondering, yes there is a four-core variant of the system that is in the IBM i P05 software tier but alas, IBM is still capping the memory of this machine at 64 GB as it did for Power8-based Power S814 and Power9-based Power S914 systems before it. We think it is probably time to boost that memory cap to 128 GB or even 256 GB. But if IBM did that, then it would sell far fewer Power S924 and Power S1024 machines perhaps.
The new Power10 machines are interesting in another way: They do not have HDD (disk drives) or SSD (flash drives) as storage options. They all support only NVM-Express flash drives, which hook over the PCI-Express bus using the flash-tuned NVM-Express protocol (unlike flash SSDs that go over the much heavier disk drive driver stack) and therefore have very low latency and high performance. The cost of NVM-Express flash has come down enough and the capacity and wear leveling on them is high enough that NVM-Express flash can be primary storage and beat disk and SSD hands down. With IBM i and AIX shops having modest storage requirements within their server nodes, this is a good time to get rid of HDDs and SSDs.
The Power S1022s machine – that is a small “s” in the name of the machine, not a typo – designated as the 9105-22B has a single-chip module (SCM) implementation of the Power10 chip with up to eight cores active, and there are two sockets in the box for a maximum of 16 cores. The Power S1022 (with no “s”) and its companion Power L1022 Linux-only system uses a dual-chip module (DCM) Power10 socket and has up to 10 cores per chip, 20 cores per socket, and 40 cores per system.
The Power S1024 and its Power L1024 Linux-only variant is a 4U chassis with lots of expansion room and has a Power10 DCM that has 12 cores per chip, 24 cores per socket, and 48 cores per system at their maximums.
Here are the processor SKUs for the entry Power10 machines:
The base clock speeds seem kind of low and we imagine that the Commercial Performance Workload, or CPW, ratings for these machines will be for cores running at higher clock speeds. It is not clear what IBM i software tier the Power S1022s, Power S1022, and Power S1024 machines are in; we will find out.
All of the entry Power10 machines support IBM’s OpenCAPI Memory Interface, which IBM is trying to rebrand as the Open Memory Interface, and its Differential DIMM DDR4 memory, which is running at 3.2 GHz and delivers 409 GB/sec of bandwidth maximum per Power10 socket. That’s about 2.4X the X86 processors on the street these days, which is a big deal. IBM is shipping the 64 GB and 128 GB DDR4 DDIMMs with the machines starting on July 22 in all of the entry machines, and it won’t have the 256 GB DDR4 DDIMMs to market until November 8, when the full memory capacity of the machines will be available. Steve Sibley, vice president of Power product management at IBM, tells The Four Hundred that Big Blue has no intention of delivering 512 GB memory modules supporting OMI and in the DDR4 DDIMM form factor, and that it has doubled the number of memory lanes on the Power10 systems to increase the bandwidth and the capacity of the memory at the same time – unlike other system architectures where you can increase memory capacity with two DIMMs per channel and fatter memory sticks, but you can’t boost the bandwidth and in fact the bandwidth per unit of capacity is cut in half this way.
This is a better design, and other server makers should take note of what IBM is doing with Power10 memory, as we have said in the past.
We are still gathering up the feeds and speeds and prices, but we asked Sibley what customers could expect in terms of performance and price/performance for the Power10 entry machines compared to their Power9 processors, and he used the Power S1014 entry machine as an example of what to expect.
“The Power S1024 will not have the same price as the Power S914 did,” Sibley explains. “The Power S1014 has a higher price because component costs are higher in general because of inflation and because of how much stuff we packed into these machines. You will see 20 percent to 25 percent higher prices on the Power S1014 compared to the Power S914, but the performance will be on the order of 70 percent better and the price/performance will be on the order of 40-plus percent better, depending on the configuration. And later this quarter, we will roll out subscription pricing on a Power S1024 with IBM i 7.5, as you know.”
We look forward to seeing this, and finding out just how much cheaper a seat of IBM i on a Power S1014 is compared to an iPhone with a dataplan. We suspect it will be somewhere around half the cost, as we pointed out last week.
And we look forward to taking the covers off of each of these machines and telling you all about them. Stay tuned.