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By | Clay Ryder 4th August 2006 09:13

IBM System p5: bigger, better, faster

Heading down the speedway

Comment IBM has announced the latest high-end servers in its System p family, the IBM System p5-590 and System p5-595, both equipped with POWER5+ processors, and up to 32 cores and 64 cores respectively.

The new servers feature 16-core units called "books", each containing two eight-core multichip modules (MCM) with four dual-core POWER5+ processors. Each processor chip contains 1.9MB of L2 cache and an integrated memory controller. The MCM contains 36MB of L3 cache per dual-core processor chip, and each book provides 16 memory card slots to support up to 512GB of RAM each.

The IBM Virtualisation Engine allows each server to accommodate up to 10 virtual server partitions per processor core. The 64-core p5-595 running a single instance of IBM DB2 9 on AIX 5L, using IBM System Storage DS4800, processed 4,016,222 transactions per minute on the TPC-C benchmark.

The company noted that its improved processor performance is due to the Dual Stress process that IBM originally developed for state-of-the-art video gaming consoles. This process involves simultaneously stretching and compressing the silicon to deliver up to a 24 per cent transistor speed increase, at the same power levels, compared with similar transistors produced without the technology.

IBM also announced the IBM Tivoli Usage and Accounting Manager, which collects information from operating systems, databases, networks, storage systems, applications and virtualised environments and tracks which part of an organization consumes each of these resources, enabling administrators to accurately monitor and bill for individual usage of virtualised resources.

Additionally, IBM is launching the IBM Server Consolidation Factory for System p, which delivers a complete solution including hardware, middleware, and consulting and deployment services, together with financing to help customers move to a virtualised environment on System p.

The IT motor speedway is one place where the drive for bigger, better, faster, and cheaper never seems to diminish. We see this in these announcements but we also see benefits derived from seemingly innocuous customer electronics finding their place inside some of the world's largest and most power servers.

The latest System p5 offerings are powerful systems with a lot to offer large organizations beyond simple benchmark bragging rights as they feature some of the most granular virtualisation capabilities available today.

The Tivoli Usage and Accounting Manager addresses what has been a missing component in many organisations' IT consolidation efforts, namely the ability to track and manage the use of virtualised resources by many different departments/users.

While IT consolidation makes a great deal of sense from an operational perspective, the politics of cost allocation within organisations have proven a challenge for some wishing to further rationalise IT resources. Hopefully, the Tivoli offerings will assuage much of this resistance as department budget managers come to realise they will not be bearing the financial burden of someone else's IT excess.

The Dual Stress process is interesting in that it illustrates the building-a-better-mouse-trap approach available to systems vendors who develop their own processor technologies. By maintaining a sizable investment in microchip design and manufacturing, IBM has been able to raise the bar on transistor performance while simultaneously improving energy efficiency and hence lower heat generation.

While we have heard much in the marketplace as of late about improved cooling (which is very important), not generating the heat in the first place is an even better approach to cooling, and operationally a less expensive one.

The breakthroughs in process that Dual Stress realised would not likely have been cost-effective from an R&D perspective if it were not for the millions of processors that could be sold into the customer electronics offerings in addition to the server marketplace.

For some time we have heard the refrain of systems vendors that they are bringing high-end technology down the product line to systems that mere mortals could purchase. With Dual Stress it is ironic that something developed for the low end of the computing food chain could have some much value and impact up at the rarified levels of computing supremacy.

Lastly, the potential value of Server Consolidation Factory for System p should not be overlooked. While many organisations are filled with very capable IT talent, for these inhouse talents to undertake system migration and consolidation initiatives can significantly impact available resources for operating the rest of the business.

The expansion of this service to include the System p should catch the attention of organisations that would prefer a little outside help to smooth the technology transition they are undertaking while allowing inhouse talent to remain focused on the primary customer, the business itself.

Overall, these announcements are further indication that IBM hardly considers the UNIX marketplace to be a stagnant one. The power, capability, and manageability of these offerings are state-of-the-art and help to ratchet up the competitive bar in this market. With upcoming announcements regarding entry-level systems, collectively these demonstrate the scalability of the Power architecture from the smallest of consumer electronics through entry level and all the way to the high end of data center computing.

Copyright © 2006, The Sageza Group

Clay Ryder is president of analyst and consulting firm The Sageza Group. Prior to founding The Sageza Group, Clay was vice president and chief analyst at Zona Research.

This article was first published at

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