IBM fuels up more Power7+ servers for impending launch

Where is the microserver array based on BlueGene/Q?

LLNL's Sequoia BlueGene/Q super being assembled by IBM

The details are a bit sketchy, but we can smell the hydrazine and it looks like IBM is getting ready to launch the next wave of Power7+ systems.

Last week, in going over Big Blue's fourth quarter financial results, IBM CFO Mark Loughridge said that it planned to roll out more Power Systems servers based on the eight-core Power7+ processor in the first half of the year. He was deliberately playing it vague but evidently trying to calm Wall Street as it watched Power Systems sales plummet 19 per cent in the quarter.

As you might expect given those numbers, IBM and its reseller partners in the Unix and IBM i (formerly known as OS/400) rackets are a bit eager to round out the line and get back to selling shiny new boxes or upgrades to customers. And it looks like it will be happening sooner rather than later for another chunk of the product line.

IBM has not said that there is a Power Systems announcement, but there is a "smarter computing" event that Big Blue is holding at 11am Eastern on February 5 (8.00 Pacific, 16.00 GMT) that looks like it is a Power Systems launch with some storage announcements as well. El Reg thinks this to be the case for a few reasons.

First of all, Colin Parris, who is general manager for the Power Systems business within the IBM Systems & Technology Group at Big Blue, is running the event - and he is being joined by Laura Guio, who is the vice president in charge of IBM's Storage Systems business (which is in the same group at the company). You can read about that event here and sign up for the webcast next Tuesday there as well.

Logo for IBM's Smarter Computing event on February 5

Channel-tastic: It's all about 'Big Data'

According to IBM resellers who are familiar with the company's plans, Big Blue will be briefing the partner channel on new Power Systems iron two days later, which could mean one of two things. It could mean Parris and Guio are going to talk about something else, perhaps using existing Power Systems and Storwize V3700 storage arrays to chase Big Data and other new-fangled workloads. Or that IBM's Power Systems partners are getting briefed in greater detail about the machines after the general public gets a very general briefing about shiny new Power7+ servers.

What El Reg has been able to surmise from resellers is that there are in fact Power7+ machines impending and that this is what resellers will be getting the low-down on. Specifically, the rack-based Power 710+ and Power 730+ machines that are mostly sold to AIX customers are getting the new eight-core Power7+ chip that IBM debuted last fall in high-end machines and in a low-end two-socket node for its PureSystems modular systems.

We've heard that the Power 720+ and Power 740+ rack and tower machines, which are popular as servers for both IBM i and AIX customers running ERP and similar back-end applications, will be announced soon, as will the midrange Power 750+, a beefier midrange box. The word on the street is that there will also be a refresh of the PureSystems line - probably a four-socket server node and maybe even a single-socket node - and something that is being called the Power 760+, which is probably a doubled-stuffed machine with two geared-down Power7+ engines in each of its sockets. (The Power 560 sported two Power6 processors, so the naming convention holds.)

C'mon Big Blue.... try to keep up

What we have not heard is anything about Power7+ blade servers or upgrades to the Power 755 or Power 775 supercomputer nodes. With IBM focusing on PureSystems for workloads that might have been bladed, it would not be surprising to see IBM hold back on Power7+ blades - or stop enhancing them altogether. IBM would, of course, continue to sell Xeon and Power7 blade servers well into the future and would provide tech support for installed and newly sold machines for many, many years to come. But you have to believe that IBM wants to sell as many PureSystems machines as possible now, and given the advantages they have over BladeCenter blade servers, customers are probably thinking that investing in BladeCenters is not a very smart move right now.

As for upgrading the Power 755 HPC nodes and the Power 775 "Blue Waters" beasts, this seems highly unlikely. IBM does not have any major customers for either machine, and seems content to push its much more energy-efficient BlueGene/Q supers, which have a funky 18-core PowerA2 processor.

If we were IBM, we'd be thinking about how you might take the BlueGene/Q fiber optic interconnect and a slew of these 64-bit Power A2 processors running Linux and turn it into a microserver farm suitable for running Web and Big Data jobs like Hadoop. IBM has the 5D torus interconnect on the chip, and two memory controllers that can address up to 16GB of memory. This chip would be a very formidable low-powered microserver processor, if it was given a way to reach out to lots of storage through the BlueGene crossbar and torus interconnect.

IBM has all the pieces, the market is forming right before us, but Big Blue doesn't seem to show any interest in microservers. Go figure. This is what happens when you let services and software people run hardware. ®

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