IBM preps AIX 7.1 for autumn Power7 harvest
Little boxes and big bad iron
In the computer racket, it has always been much easier to get new hardware out the door than the software to take advantage of it fully. And so it is with IBM's Power7-based Power Systems machines and its AIX variant of Unix, which is slated for a 7.1 update in the autumn.
AIX 7.1 is expected more or less concurrently with the high-end 256-core Power7 box, presumably to be called the Power 795. This server will sport 1,024 threads and perhaps as much as 8 TB of main memory in a single system image, and the word on the street is that it will also host 640 logical partitions running Big Blue's PowerVM hypervisor.
The word on the street is that IBM is working on high-density memory cards, necessary to balance the large number of cores, and that these - not the operating system and not the multichip modules that will go into the Power 795 machine - are what is holding up the big iron box. Once one part of the system is late, there is no reason to rush out the rest, so the software engineers working on AIX 7.1 are getting a little more time to step on some bugs. Perhaps until late September or early October, when AIX 7.1 is rumored to be shipping.
IBM could, of course, announce it well before then and may be under pressure to launch new Power boxes and AIX 7.1 ahead of plan if Power Systems sales continue to slump in parallel with System z mainframe sales. IBM had originally planned to launch the midrange Power 750, 770, and 780 servers in May of this year (plus a Power 755 variant for HPC customers), but moved them up until February.
The Power 750 and 755 are four-socket machines in a 4U chassis, while the Power 770 and 780 are SMP machines that have from one to four of these 4U chassis, rip out half the processor cards and add in SMP electronics, and then scale as far as eight sockets or 64 cores in a four-chassis system. IBM also pulled the Power Systems 700, 701, and 702 blades into April; the PS700 and PS701 are single-socket blades, and the PS702 snaps two of the PS701s together to make a double-wide, two-socket blade with 16 cores.
The company has three more entry Power Systems in the works - a good guess is a Power 710 and a Power 720 and maybe a Smart Cube appliance server based on the Power 710 box - in addition to the high-end Power 795 box. It is a good guess that IBM has a single-socket entry tower and rack machine as well as a two-socket machine, since these are necessary to keep customers running its proprietary OS/400 and i happy.
While IBM has a number of very large shops running i5/OS V5R4, i 6.1, and now i 7.1, which came out in April, the vast majority of the i base is comprised of SMB customers who have no idea what to do with a 256-core Power Systems machine, and no means of paying for it either. Finally, IBM has also previewed the gigantic Power7 IH node used in the "Blue Waters" petaflops-class supercomputer, which El Reg told you all about last November.
IBM is pretty tight-lipped about what features AIX 7.1 will have, but Satya Sharma, the chief technology officer for the Power Systems division, says that going from a 32-socket machine with 64 cores and 128 threads to one with 256 cores and 1,024 threads (IBM has been very careful to not say how many sockets the big AIX box will have) requires a rethinking of the locking strategy inside the operating system.