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By | Timothy Prickett Morgan 17th August 2010 16:39

IBM completes Power7 server arsenal

Shooting low and high

The roll-out of the Power7-based rack, blade, and tower servers finishes up today with the debut of five Power Systems machines. Big Blue is launching four itty bitty boxes and one behemoth.

Now we get to find out just how much pent-up demand there is - or isn't, as the case may be - for IBM's entry and high-end Power-based servers, which are driven predominantly by its AIX Unix variant with a smattering of its own proprietary i operating system and some Linux.

In terms of server volumes, the four entry machines in the Power Systems lineup have the potential to increase IBM's server volumes while at the same time letting the company make use of partially dudded Power7 chips. (No, El Reg is not singling IBM out for doing this, as some comments in past Power7 stories have suggested, but merely pointing out that Big Blue has generally not done this in the past with its dual-core Power4, Power5, and Power6 processors). But with eight cores per processor instead of two, the odds of one, two, or four cores having a booger on them is higher, and that means IBM has plenty of chips it can cycle down to less powerful machines and still make a little money.

It also means that IBM can create a broader entry Power Systems product line than it has had in years and push back against the onslaught of x64 boxes based on processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices and largely running Windows and Linux. And that is the intent of these four entry machines, says Jeff Howard, director of marketing for IBM's Power Systems division.

Most i shops don't need more than one or two cores of processing to support their RPG and COBOL applications and churn their DB2/400 databases, but there are enough midrange and enterprise shops running i to make it worth the while to put that proprietary platform on larger machines. And while AIX tends to run on larger boxes and support big Oracle or DB2 databases, Howard says that a number of AIX shops were asking for some more modest and inexpensive AIX machines to plunk into departments and remote offices.

And so, earlier this year, IBM decided to broaden its entry Power Systems lineup from just a single Power 720 machine with one or two sockets to four machines with a variety of form factors, clock speeds, core counts, and sockets.

IBM has not had a 2U rack server to compete against the workhorses of the x64 market since the Power5 generation, and seemed to all but cede this market to its System x division and competitors Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sun Microsystems, and Fujitsu. But with the Sun Sparc server lineup in stasis even after being acquired by Oracle this January and some HP Unix shops not being happy that their vendor is only selling one rack-based Itanium 9300 machine and trying to move them to blade form factors, Howard says that there was an opportunity to go after the Sun and HP installed bases with a barrage of Power7 rack servers.

So IBM now has two 2U rack servers - the Power 710 and 730 - and two 4U rack and tower servers - the Power 720 and 740 - as the on ramps to its Power Systems lineup. It would have been interesting to see IBM put out a super-dense, very powerful 1U rack server, but for whatever reason, Big Blue has not been interested in this part of the server racket since the Power5+ came out in the System p5 505Q server in August 2006.

The memory configurations on some of these entry boxes are not going to impress a lot of people, but the lower prices of the skinny machines might help move the itty bitty Power7 boxes just the same, particularly for remote offices and departments with fixed and modest AIX or i workloads.

The Power 710 is a 2U rack server that has a single processor card that has room for one Power7 chip and from 8 GB to 64 GB of main memory. That processor card can be equipped with three different Power7 chips: a four-core variant running at 3.0 GHz, a six-core chip running at 3.7 GHz, or an eight-core chip spinning at 3.55 GHz. The chassis has room for six 2.5-inch SAS disk or SATA flash drives, an integrated SAS disk controller on the motherboard, and four low-profile PCI-Express peripherals slots. The Power 710 has either four Gigabit Ethernet ports or two 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports in its integrated virtual Ethernet controller. The Power 710 has a single GX++ I/O slot for attaching remote I/O drawers to the Power 710.

In a base configuration with a four-core Power7 chip running at 3 GHz, 8 GB of memory, and two 73.4 GB of disk (15K RPM), the Power 710 costs $6,385, not including an operating system. This is what IBM calls an Express configuration, which means the company gives processor activations on the system at half price if customers take the configuration as-is. With the six-core Power7 chip running at 3.7 GHz, the Power 710 Express has 16 GB of memory and those two disks at a cost of $8,120. The top-end Power 710 Express has the eight-core Power7 chip running at 3.55 GHz with 16 GB of memory and two disks for $14,620.

IBM Power 710 and 730

IBM's Power 710 and 730 Power7 rack servers.

The Power 730 takes the same 2U chassis and allows for two Power7 processor cards to be added to the box. The same three processor cards are available as in the Power 710, but IBM also threw in a fourth option, a six-core Power7 chip running at 3.7 GHz. One other thing: when you buy the Power 730, you have to buy both processor cards in the base configuration. If you want scalability, you need to go to the Power 740 (more on that machine in a minute). Obviously, with two processor cards, main memory can expand as far as 128 GB, but starts out at the same 8 GB base configuration. Those two processor cards also give the Power 730 two GX++ slots for remote I/O drawers.

A base Power 730 Express rack server comes with two four-core Power7 chips running at 3 GHz, plus 32 GB of main memory and two of those 73.4 GB, 15K RPM small disk drives. This box costs $15,230. Stepping up two a Power 730 Express with two four-core Power7 chips running at 3.7 GHz raises the price to $17,500. With two of the six-core chips running at 3.7 GHz, 48 GB of memory, and two disks, the Power 730 Express costs $19,500. And full-out with two-eight-core Power7 chips running at 3.55 GHz plus 64 GB of memory and two disks brings the price up to $34,640.

The Power7 ponies

The Power 720 is the workhorse of IBM's Power Systems lineup now, as the Power 520 was ahead of it. And in fact, this is the box that IBM is allowing customers to upgrade to from Power 520 machines using Power6 or Power6+ processors. Customers with earlier Power-based entry servers cannot upgrade to the Power 710, 730, or 740, and it is not clear that IBM is offering upgrades across the new Power7-based entry machines, either.

The Power 720 comes in the 4U chassis used by the Power 750, 770, and 780 machines as well as in the new Power 740. Like the BladeCenter PS700, PS701, and PS702, the Power 720 only supports a single Power7 clock speed: 3 GHz. Customers can get a single processor card with a Power7 chip with four, six, or eight cores on it. Main memory on that single processor card can expand from 8 GB to 128 GB (only to 64 GB on the four-core card, though), which is the full memory complement that the Power7 processor cards allow using 1 GHz DDR3 main memory.

The Power 720 chassis has room for eight 2.5-inch SAS disk or SATA flash drives. The Power 720 chassis comes with four PCI-Express 2.0 full height slots (x8) as well as an optional feature to add four low-profile PCI-Express 2.0 slots. The Power 720 has one GX++ slot for attaching remote I/O and the same Ethernet options as the Power 710 and 730. (The four-core version does not have a GX++ slot.)

In a bare-bones Express configuration, the Power 720 comes with a four-core Power7 chip running at 3 GHz, 8 GB of memory, and two of those 73.4 GB SAS disks for $6,835, not including the operating system. Moving up to the six-core Power7 chip and adding another 8 GB of memory raises the price to $9,995. With the eight-core Power7 chip, 16 GB of memory, and two disks, the price of the Power 720 Express costs $16,995. Those extra two cores are pretty pricey, as you can see.

IBM Power 720 and 740 servers

IBM's Power 720 and 740 rack and tower servers.

The final new entry Power7 machine is the Power 740, and it is essentially half of a Power 750 or two Power 720s in the same 4U rack or tower chassis, depending on how you want to think of it. The difference between the Power 740 and the Power 750 is that the latter machine was launched in February when Power7 clock speeds and yields were lower. So, ironically, the Power 740 has slightly faster chips than the Power 750. (IBM will probably fix this at some point and add 3.7 GHz processor options to the Power 750.)

The Power 740 has four processor options: a four-core Power7 chips running at either 3.3 GHz or 3.7 GHz, a six-core chip running at 3.7 GHz, and an eight-core running at 3.55 GHz. On the Power 740, customers can install one or two processor cards, and memory scales from 8 GB to 256 GB. The box has the same 4x4 PCI-Express peripheral options, storage, and networking options as the Power 720. The machine has room for eight disks or flash drives.

In a base Express configuration, the Power 740 with a single four-core Power7 chip running at 3.3 GHz with 16 GB of memory and two disks costs $15,767. Bump up the clock speed on the four-core processor to 3.7 GHz, you're talking $17,217. Moving up to the six-core 3.7 GHz chips, 32 GB, and two disks, you raise the price to $22,502. The heavy configuration of the Power 740, with the full sixteen Power7 cores running at 3.55 GHz, 64 GB of memory, and two disks runs to $43,375.

The Power 710, 720, 730, and 740 machines will all be available starting September 17, and they come with three-year warranties like x64 servers do these days. (The Power6 and Power6+ entry servers had only a one-year warranty). These four machines support IBM's own AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1, the latter being in beta testing now and shipping on September 17, about a month earlier than planned. IBM's own i 6.1.1 and i 7.1 operating systems can also be run on the boxes, as can Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5.5 and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP3 and 11 SP1. RHEL 6, which should be shipping any week now, will also be enabled on the entire Power7 server line.

The Power 795 behemoth

That leaves to top end of the Power7 server range, the Power 795. As El Reg has previously reported, the Power 795 is similar in architecture to the Power6-based Power 595 system it replaces in that both have eight system boards in their symmetric multiprocessing configuration, with each system board having four processor sockets. The key difference with the Power 795, of course, is that IBM has moved from the dual-core Power6 chip running at 5 GHz to the six-core Power7 chips running at 3.7 GHz and eight-core Power7 chips running at either 4 GHz or 4.25 GHz.

According to Howard, a single 4 GHz Power7 core will yield about 15 to 20 per cent more performance than a 5 GHz Power6 core, and when you factor in the quadrupling of cores moving from the Power 595 to the Power 795 plus this increase in performance (largely enabled through the 32 MB of embedded DRAM L3 cache memory on the Power7 chip), the full-bore Power 795 system has just under five times the raw capacity of the top-end Power 595.

The Power 795 comes in two different configurations. The first uses the six-core, 3.7 GHz Power7 chips and scales from 24 to 192 cores. Each processor book has 32 main memory slots, which yields a total of 256 memory slots in a fully loaded system and 8 TB of main memory in a single system image. This low-end Power 795 machine can support up to 32 remote I/O drawers using IBM's 12X tweak on 20 Gb/sec InfiniBand, which slots into the GX++ I/O slots on the Power7 processor cards.

IBM Power 795

IBM's Power 795 top-end Power7 server.

The full-on Power 795 comes with MaxCore and TurboCore modes, just like the Power 780 enterprise-class server announced back in February. In MaxCore model, each processor book has four Power7 chips with eight fully working cores running at 4 GHz. That yields a top-end system with 256 cores, and at four threads per core, 1,024 threads. That's four times the cores and eight times the threads as the Power 595.

Some workloads like having more L3 cache memory and main memory allocated to fewer and faster cores, so the Power 795 includes the TurboCore mode, which lets system administrators flip a switch in the Power 795's firmware and reboot it with only half of the cores in the system turned on, but now they run at 4.25 GHz. That may not be a lot more clocks, but the extra cache and main memory can make a big difference for certain workloads, and a 128-core system can, on many workloads (particularly database processing) do more work than a 256-core box. Howard says about 15 to 20 per cent more oomph per core is typical among early Power 795 testers.

The Power 795 will initially support only 254 PowerVM logical partitions, but Howard says in 2011 the company will expand this to 1,000 VMs per physical Power 795 machine. With AIX workload partitions, the machine will be able to have thousands of virtual machines per box.

Pricing information was not provided for the Power 795. The machine will be available on September 17. The Power 795 will support the same AIX, i, and Linux operating systems as the entry Power Systems boxes also announced today. ®

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