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IBM slips Power6+ into racks, blades

The chip that dare not speak its name

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Four treads, fours Us

And for customers who really want to cram a lot of threads into a 4U box, IBM launched the Power 560 last October using slower 3.6 GHz Power6+ chips - and didn't tell anyone they were Power6+ chips. But that's not the point. What is the point is that the Power 560 crammed two Power6+ chips (that's four cores) onto those four processor cards, yielding a maximum of 16 cores and 160 logical partitions for the machine, which had a maximum of 384 GB of main memory.

It really should have been 512 GB to be balanced, but 384 GB is pretty good for a 16-core. HP's ProLiant DL580 is a four-socket box that sports the four-core or six-core "Dunnington" Xeon 7400s and it maxes out at 256 GB of main memory. (There's a reason that Cisco Systems has gone to the trouble of creating its own memory extension ASIC, allowing it to boost main memory to 384 GB (and possibly as high as 576 GB) on Xeon 5500 blades).

A base Power 520 configuration using the 4.7 GHz Power6+ chip costs $14,950 with a single processor card with two cores activated, 4 GB of memory, and two 146.8 GB disks. (An AIX license costs an additional $300 per core and a year of maintenance for the system costs $598 per core). A base four-core Power 520 using the Power6+ chip with 8 GB of memory and two disks costs $20,906. The base Power 550 with a single 5 GHz Power6+ chip (two cores activated), 4 GB of memory, and two disks costs $35,953, so you can see IBM is charging a $20,000 premium for the system expandability embodied in the Power 550. An eight-core Power 550 using the 5 GHz Power6+ and configured with 16 GB of memory and two disks runs to $115,204.

On the blade front, IBM is announcing two new blade servers - well, really one blade server that has symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) expansion built into its design. The JS23 blade server is a two-socket, four-core machine that sports 4.2 GHz Power6+ processors. The blade offers from 4 GB to 64 GB of DDR2 main memory and has room for a single 2.5-inch SAS hard disk or solid state disk drive.

The Power6+ chips have the 32 MB of L3 cache per dual-core chip, which means the performance is not crimped compared to the JS22 blade IBM shipped last year. The JS23 is rated at 36.28 on the rPerf metric, about 20 per cent more oomph than the JS22 it effectively replaces in the Power Systems lineup. (The JS22 was had two dual-core 4 GHz Power6 chips on its blade and topped out at 32 GB of memory).

The neat bit of today's announcements is the JS43. As it turns out, there is a special interconnection port on the JS23 blade called the XMP Interconnect that allows two single-wide four-core JS23 blades to be snapped together to create a double-wide JS43 blade that packs up to eight cores and 128 GB of main memory into a single system image. (IBM did the same trick with its LS series Opteron-based blades a few years back. And because the Power servers as well as the Opterons support NUMA-oid SMP clustering, Big Blue can do this with these two blades).

That JS43 blade server is rated at 68.2 on the rPert test, more than twice the oomph that the JS22 could bring to bear. And equally importantly to an IBM that has lost a lot of blade server market share to Hewlett-Packard and some to Dell, the JS43 supports up to 80 logical partitions and has enough memory to make that possible, not just feasible in a technical sense. Still, the Power 550 supports twice as much main memory and has 5 GHz Power6+ chips, so customers who really need to push virtualization to the limits may yet stick to rack machines, no matter how much IBM wants them to move to blades.

The base JS23 blade comes with all four cores activated, 4 GB of memory, and one 73.4 GB SAS disk. It costs $8,919. A BladeCenter S chassis (designed for office environments and the 120-volt power that SMB shops need) runs to $4,499 while the BladeCenter H chassis (designed for data centers and 240-volt power) costs $3,849. AIX costs $340 per core and annual maintenance on the hardware and software costs $1,196. A base JS43 blade server comes with eight of those 4.2 GHz Power6+ cores, 8 GB of memory (4 GB per blade), and a single disk for $17,510.

The four new Power6+ machines announced today support AIX 5.3 or 6.1 or i 6.1 from IBM, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP1 or later from Novell, or Enterprise Linux 4 Update 5 or Enterprise Linux 5 Update 1 from Red Hat. They will be available on May 22. ®

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