IBM PowerLinux Changes the x86 Calculus

With Linux reportedly the fastest growing operating system in the work and 99% of Global 2000 enterprises intending to include open source software in their portfolios by 2015 (up from 73% in 2012), clearly open source Linux has long crossed the adoption chasm and achieved enterprise acceptance. This is an ideal time for IBM to introduce its new PowerLinux servers, which deliver the performance of IBM Power Systems at x86 prices.

The IBM PowerLinux introduction includes two Linux-only models, a 2-socket, 2U rack server (7R2) and a 2-socket compute node (p24L) intended to plug into IBM’s newly introduced PureFlex appliance. Each socket contains 8 POWER7 cores and 256GB of memory, and IBM has tuned the machines for key tasks, like Big Data.  BottomlineIT covered the PureSystems introduction previously here. PureFlex is a computing appliance that accepts a variety of nodes in the form of blades, including PowerLinux as a compute node.

IBM’s goal was to deliver PowerLinux at a cost of acquisition competitive with x86 systems.  For example, the PowerLinux system including POWER7, virtualization (PowerVM), and the Linux open source OS (either Red Hat or SUSE) costs $21,282 (USD). By comparison, a comparable Dell/Intel system (able to handle the same workloads and running VMware vSphere Enterprise 5 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscription and support comes in at $22,650 (USD). A comparable HP/Intel system running VMware vSphere Enterprise 5 and Red Hat subscription and support costs $24,838 (USD). Comparative cost data provided by IBM.  If you don’t want the PowerVM hypervisor, there is the KVM option.

Both the Dell and HP systems run 2-socket, 16-core 2.4GHz ER-2665 Sandy Bridge processors with32GB of memory, two 300GB SAS drives (15k), a 4x1GbE network controller, and a SAS, DVD, RAID storage controller. The PowerLinux system brings a faster 16-core processor (3.55 GHz) while matching the other specifications.

So, in terms of speeds, feeds, and cost, PowerLinux not only meets but exceeds the leading x86 systems for running virtualized Linux workloads. When you look at virtualization for PowerLinux compared to VMware vSphere 5.0, PowerLinux looks even better. PowerLinux handles 16 virtual CPUs per virtual machine vs. 8 for VMware and 4 CPU threads per core vs. 2 for VMware. Throw in the secure hardware-based hypervisor for PowerLinux (PowerVM) vs. VMware’s software-based hypervisor and the PowerLinux machine is the clear winner.

In terms of workloads, one beta user, the University of Hamburg (Germany), compared two PowerLinux machines with ten x86 Linux servers for a big file serving workload. The result: PowerLinux delivered a 50% performance gain and a 30% lower cost of virtual file server acquisition.

If you look at a Big Data analytics workload—another increasingly important workload—the PowerLinux server with 4 threads per core has an immediate advantage over Intel’s 2 threads per core. PowerLinux also can handle parallel file systems across multiple servers using HDFS or the highly optimized IBM GPFS. In short, PowerLinux servers can natively exploit massively parallel processing across Linux clusters, which is what you want for Big Data.

PowerLinux already has been highly tuned by IBM. Should you deploy it as a compute node in the PureFlex appliance, you get the added integration, optimization, and automated expertise (patterns) IBM has packed into that device too.

The appeal of the PowerLinux system is that IBM streamlined it to match or exceed x86 cost and performance objectives. It, indeed, can beat comparable x86 machines running Linux virtualized workloads and do it at less than x86/VMware prices.

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  1. #1 by Angshuman Roy on April 30, 2012 - 2:52 pm

    Wanted to clarify your comment “If you don’t want the PowerVM hypervisor, there is the KVM option”. That’s not true. According to the announcement letter, PowerLinux only supports PowerVM. Here is the link to the announcement:
    http://www-01.ibm.com/common/ssi/rep_ca/3/897/ENUS112-063/ENUS112-063.PDF

    • #2 by dancingdinosaur on April 30, 2012 - 2:59 pm

      You are right, but at a recent briefing IBM raised the possibility of the KVM option. Let me clarify.

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