Informing the IBM Community

New Power models set to “disrupt” competition



Sometimes you’ve just got to admire Big Blue’s chutzpah.

Last Wednesday, the corporation announced that it had pretty much wrapped up the sale of its x86 server manufacturing division to Chinese giant Lenovo.

Two days later, it made its latest Power Systems announcements with a press release entitled: “IBM provides clients superior alternative to x86-based commodity servers”.

Friday saw the debut of new high-end Power E870 and E880 servers, the Power8 processor-based successors to the Power 770 and 780. The E870 can pack up to 80 cores and up to 4TB of memory while the E880 features up to 128 cores and up to 16 TB of memory.

IBM also introduced the S824L, the first next-gen Power System to incorporate technology from a member of IBM’s OpenPOWER industry consortium, Nvidia.

Having offloaded its x86-based System x, BladeCenter and Flex Systems, IBM’s press release stated: “The commodity servers used today by most organisations are built on proprietary processor technology and are increasingly stretched to their limits by workloads related to Big Data, cloud and mobile demands. In contrast, IBM is designing a new data centric approach to systems that leverages the building blocks of the OpenPOWER Foundation.”

Doug Balog, general manager of Power Systems at IBM’s systems & technology group, was even moved some official fighting talk.

He said: “Our open innovation business model and approach to OpenPOWER will disrupt technology providers that offer closed, proprietary solutions produced within the walls of one company.”

That is, of course, if such technology providers are not already getting disrupted by the workload-gobbling and ever-voracious cloud.

But while question marks remain over whether IBM will continue to manufacture its own processors (or, indeed, servers) in the future, it’s interesting to see this new face now it is left to concentrate on Power System and System z hardware.

The new E870 and E880 are impressive beasts that run IBM i, AIX and Linux. IBM claims, for example, that the E870 delivers twice the performance per core of competitors. It cites SPEC benchmarks comparing a Power E870 (80-core, 4.19 GHz) against systems using Intel Xeon E7-4890 v2 (Ivybridge-EX) or SPARC T5 processors.

It has been the Ubuntu Linux-based two-socket S824L supporting 20 or 24 cores in a 4U rack, though, that has garnered the most press attention. The first tangible product of IBM’s recent efforts to bring third-party players to the Power table, it offloads highly parallel operations to a GPU accelerator from Nvidia.

This, says IBM, boosts workload performance for analytics and means faster query acceleration for Java apps. It is already incorporating Nvidia’s technology within its BLU Accleration add-on to DB2.

Future Power Systems will feature Nvidia NVLink technology, eliminating the need to transfer data between the CPU and GPUs over the PCI Express interface. However, these machines won’t hit the streets until 2016. The E870, E880 and S824L will be available at the end of this month.

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