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IBM completes Power7 server arsenal

Shooting low and high

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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.

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