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IBM rolls out its Power7+ processors in its P-260 server nodes

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November 14, 2012

IBM says it has rolled out its Power7+ processors in its P-260 server nodes. When IBM launched its first servers to use the Power7+ processors, it put the new 32-nanometer chips in its Power 770+ servers.

Big Blue then added that it would be sometime in 2013 before we can see any Power7+ systems rolled out. It now looks like customers were not willing to wait until the new year to get Power7+ processors in their Flex systems.

IBM's new Flex System P-260 node using the Power7+ processor looks physically the same as the two-socket node using Power7 chips that was announced in April 2012.

The P-260 node has two Power processor sockets in the front with the accompanying heat sinks, plus eight DDR3 memory slots per socket.

Using 16 GB memory sticks, the server tops out at 256 GB of main memory which isn't that much for a two-socket server sporting sixteen cores, but it's probably enough for most workloads.

The lid of the server node has room for two 2.5-inch drives, and if you use them for local operating system or other storage on the node, you have to buy very-low-profile (VLP) main memory that's only available in 4 GB or 8 GB capacities.

Those disks come in 300 GB, 600 GB, and 900 GB capacities. You can slot in two 1.8-inch SSDs with 177 GB of capacity instead, and then use regular low-profile DDR3 memory sticks up to the full 16 GB capacity that Big Blue supports.

The original P-260 node from April (technically known as 7895-22X in the IBM catalog) supported a four-core Power7 chip running at 3.3 GHz or an eight-core variant running at either 3.2 GHz or 3.55 GHz. The CPUs are installed in the machine in pairs.

With the updated P-260 node announced yesterday, which is Product No. 7895-23X in the IBM catalog, the server node can have two four-core Power7+ chips running at 4 GHz or an eight-core variant that runs at either 3.6 GHz or 4.1 GHz.

Relative performance specs are not yet available for this server, so we don't know how much extra work those extra clocks and other accelerator features of the Power7+ chip enable the servers to do compared to prior Power7 boxes.

In conjunction with the launch of the Power7+ processor support in the P-260 node, IBM is also doubling up the memory capacity in the P-260 node or the four-socket P-460 (which was also announced back in April and is essentially two P-260s side-by-side.

They are linked by an IBM NUMA chipset that supports low-profile DDR3 memory sticks in 32 GB capacities. The VLP memory capacity has not been increased, so if you go with disks, no extra memory for you.

The P-260 is a single-wide server node and slides into the Flex System chassis. The P-460 is a double-wide node. Interestingly, IBM didn't upgrade the P-460 node with the new Power7+ chips, but that server can use the new 32 GB memory just the same.

The P-240L node for PowerLinux servers have their firmware altered a bit so that they can run Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. But they can't even boot IBM's own AIX or IBM i operating systems. Both will eventually get a processor upgrade.

The PowerLinux machines have slightly lower base-system prices, much lower disk-drive prices (35 to 70 percent lower per GB), and lower memory prices (on the order of five to seven times lower cost per GB) for the exact same features in the plain-vanilla Power Systems machines that are enabled to run AIX and IBM i.

That's how badly IBM wants to compete and how much of a threat it sees the x86 server business to its Power Systems division. It wouldn't be surprising to see IBM offer the double-stuffed Power7+ sockets it talked about back at the Hot Chips 24 conference.

The P-260 node with Power7+ processors will be available on December 3rd. With 32 GB of main memory and two of the four-core Power7+ chips running at 4 GHz, the P-260 node costs around $12,000.

Drilling into the pricing a bit, IBM charges $8,600 for the pair of four-core 4 GHz processors. If you want to go with two eight-core 3.6 GHz Power7+ engines, that will run you $15,409 just for the two CPUs, and two eight-core chips running at 4.1 GHz will cost $17,524. Unlike with other Power Systems machines, those cores are all activated at the start.

With normal Power Systems machines, you buy a base processor card for a certain amount of money and then pay an incremental fee to activate each core on the one, two, or four chips on the card. That 1.8-inch SSD with 177 GB of capacity costs $4,400 at list price, and a 32 GB DDR3 LP memory stick costs $3,200 on this server.

In a related announcement, IBM will be allowing the P-260 to be an option in PureFlex infrastructure rack configurations (which include servers, storage, switching, and management software) starting on December 10. Up until now, only the two-socket x240 server node, which is based on Intel's Xeon E5-2600 CPUs, was available in this preconfigured server.

The PureFlex system setups can now also be configured with the x220 and x440 server nodes that IBM announced and shipped in August using the low-end Xeon E5-2400 and the high-end Xeon E5-4600, respectively.

To be sure, IBM has also made good on its promise of creating a variant of the Storwize V-7000 block storage array that can slide into the Flex System chassis and plug into its power supplies, management controller and integrated networking.

The Flex System chassis is a rack-mounted enclosure that's 10U high and can sport up to six 2,500 watt power supplies. It has room for seven double-wide and fourteen single-wide devices. The internal V-7000 takes up the same space as two double-wide server nodes, and has room for two dozen 2.5-inch SAS drives.

The V-7000 internal array has two "node canisters," which are subcomponents with controllers, cache memory, and disks hanging off them. There are also "expansion canisters", which just have disks and hang off the nodes. Each node canister in the internal V-7000 has 8 GB of cache, and has 8 Gb Fibre Channel or 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports that can be used to link the array to the server nodes in a Flex System through the midplane in the chassis.

Source: IBM Corp.

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