IBM Bolsters Its Midrange Power Servers

IBM’s Systems and Technology Group (STG) introduced a slew of new products and enhancements this week, both hardware and software, for its midrange server lineup, the Power Systems products. The Power announcements covered new capabilities as well as new machines. And all the announcements in one way or another addressed IBM’s current big themes: Cloud, Analytics, and Security. The net-net of all these announcements: more bang for the buck in terms of performance, flexibility, and efficiency.

Of the new Power announcements the newest processor, Power7+, certainly was the star.  Other capabilities, such as elastic capacity on demand and dynamic Power system pools, may prove more important in the long run. Another new announcement, the EXP30 Ultra SSD I/O Drawer, may turn out quite useful as organizations appreciate the possibilities of SSD and ramp up usage.

Power7+, with 2 billion transistors, promises to deliver 40% more performance, especially for Java workloads, compared to Power7.  Combined with other enhancements Power announced, it looks particularly good for data and even real-time analytics workloads.  The new processor boasts 4.4 GHz speeds, a 10MB L3 cache per core (8 cores =80 MB), and a random number generator along with enhanced single precision floating point performance and an enhanced GX system bus. IBM invested the additional transistors primarily in the cache. All of this will aid performance and efficiency.

The enhanced chip also brings an active memory expansion accelerator and an on-chip encryption accelerator for AIX. Previously this was handled in software; now it is done in hardware for better performance and efficiency.  Power7+ also can handle 20 VMs per core, double the number of Power7 VMs. This allows system administrators to make VM partitions, especially development partitions, quite small (just 5% of the core).  With energy enhancements, it also delivers 5x more performance per watt. New power gating also allows the chip to be configured in a variety of ways. The upshot: more flexibility.

Other new capabilities include elastic Capacity on Demand (CoD) and Power System Pools work hand in hand.  Depending on the server model, you can create what amounts to a huge pool of shared system resources, either permanently or temporarily. IBM has offered versions of capacity on demand for years, but they typically entailed elaborate set up and cumbersome activation routines to make the capacity available.  Again, depending on the model IBM is promising more flexible CoD and easier activation, referring to it as instant elasticity.  If it works as described, you should be able to turn multiple Power servers into a massive shared resource. Combine these capabilities to create a private cloud based on these new servers and you could end up with a rapidly expandable private cloud. Usually, it would take a hybrid cloud for that kind of expansion, and even that is not necessarily simple to set up.

There are, however, limitations to elastic CoD and Power Systems Pool. An initial quantity of CoD credits are offered only with new Power 795 and Power 780 (a Power7+ machine). There also is a limit of 10 Power 795 and/or 780 servers in a pool.

Enterprises are just starting to familiarize themselves with SSD, what it can do for them, and how best to deploy. The EXP30 Ultra SSD I/O Drawer, scheduled for general release in November, should make it easier to include SSD in an enterprise infrastructure strategy using the GX++ bus. The 1U drawer can hold up to 30 SSD drives (387 GB) in that small footprint.  That’s a lot of resource in a tight space: 11.6 TB of capacity, 480,000 read IOPS, and 4.5 GB/s of aggregate bandwidth. IBM reports that it can cut batch window processing by up to 50% and reduce the number of HDD by up to 10x. Plus, you can still attach up to 48 HDD downstream for another 43 TB.

And these just touch on some of what IBM packed into the Oct. 3 announcement. BottomlineIT will look at other pieces of the Power announcement, from enhancements of PowerVM to PowerSC for security and compliance as well as look at the enhancements made to zEC12 software. Stay tuned.

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