IBM POWER7 Event at Ontario Science Center- Summary

Under the auspices of the cryptic name “Perspectives on the Future of IT”,  IBM invited customer and partners around the GTA to the major POWER 7 announcement Tuesday Feb 9th at the Ontario Science Center. It was certainly good to see such a large crowd and packed house, well over 250 were in attendance. They must have all been able to decipher the code and know this was a big deal!!

A sure sign of recessionary times could easily have been that every presenter wore a dark suit, as did the majority of the audience.  Everyone was hoping and expecting IBM to show leadership by helping to drive technology and innovation into the dull market and create value for customers and partners alike. The session did not disappoint.

IBM’s continued, sustained investment in POWER technology architecture has put POWER7 about 2 full cycles ahead of Sun Microsystems and HP (translation: its 4-8 times better performance than their best). Customers and partners alike, wondering what to do with the colossal amount of processing power available need to think about the “Smarter Planet” theme. The “green” continent amongst us can be reassured that enormous energy saving that do the same work with 70% less energy.

Host of the event was Bruce Ross, GM of IBM Canada. Thanks Bruce! Bruce summarized the announcements and whet attendees appetite for more information.

Steve Sibley, VP STG IBM Canada walked through Smarter Planet thematic. Smarter Planet pushes us corporate citizens and earth inhabitants to think hard about how we can deploy new technology to make the world a better place. Three things have brought this about:

The world is becoming instrumented. By 2010, there will be a billion transistors per human, each one costing one ten-millionth of a cent. The world is becoming interconnected. With a trillion networked things—cars, roadways, pipelines, appliances, pharmaceuticals and even livestock—the amount of information created by those interactions grows exponentially. All things are becoming intelligent. Algorithms and powerful systems can analyze and turn those mountains of data into actual decisions and actions that make the world work better.

The applicability of this is global and local and cross industry. Canadian Government, traffic management, healthcare and transportation problems and potential solutions were illustrated and discussed.

Ray Williams, IBM Systems Advocate switched on the technology talk. He touted key technological features of the IBM platform including: Workload optimizing systems, virtualization without limits, management with automation and energy optimization.

It made me think that with POWER 7, you could finally operate AIX as if it were a mainframe. Yep, I mean you can now run all sorts of heterogeneous workloads at the same time in single AIX instance(WPARS), or dynamically across heterogeneous systems as (DLPARS), move apps from system to system while active (Live Partition Mobility) and basically do anything you wish to it (add, cede, share, pool) all with full workload isolation, workload management. To top it off, IBM brings Mainframe class clustering from Parallel Sysplex and build it into Clustered DB technology as in DB2PureScale. The net result: ability to optimize your systems resources, scale up or out as you need and maintain highest levels of service with lowest energy use.

The systems themselves are impressive. Blades and Enterprise systems were not announced, but what was includes:

  • IBM Power® 780, a new category of scalable, high-end servers, based on a unique IBM 19” rack with a an advanced modular design with up to 64 POWER7 cores and the new TurboCore™ workload optimizing mode. Think if it as a dressed up 770.
  • IBM Power 770 is  a midrange system with up to 64 POWER7 cores, featuring higher performance per core and using up to 70 percent less energy for the same number of cores as the IBM Power 570.
  • IBM Power 755 is  a high-performance computing cluster node with 32 POWER7 cores, Energy Star qualified for energy efficiency, and optimized for challenging analytic workloads: the type of stuff associated with Smarter Planet Intelligence!
  • IBM Power 750 Express is an Energy Star qualified business server for mid-market clients. The Power 750 Express is a 1- to 4-socket server using POWER7 6-core and 8-core processor options running at 3.0 GHz, 3.3 GHz or 3.55 GHz.

Those wanting to know more about Application Development were left with the thought that IBM has finally introduced consistent development environment and optimized compilers for i, AIX and Linux through Rational. But those who want details will definitely have to come to the TUG/IBM session at the Lab on Feb 17th

Bob Blainey, Director from IBM SWG SW talked about IBN SWG exploitation of IBM POWER7. To me, this was very interesting. Bob discussed how IBM software has always been system agnostic… so it shouldn’t matter if you run it on Intel, Sun, POWER (in theory). But with the advent of POWER7 a radical change happened, most notably at WebSphere, DB2 and Lotus. What you need to consider is the dramatic increase in the number of threads supported by he new architecture (4 way SMT per core, 32 threads per chip) so you need middleware that will automatically spawns threads to take advantage of the SMP architecture available if you really want to scale. The work to go to 32 threads and beyond shows up in the form of linear scalability in performance benchmarks… and something that is unmatched on other systems!  

Andreas Hofer, SAP Inc commented on the advantages of using DB2 for SAP installs. Many of those benefits stemming from close cooperation between IBM and SAP (including SAP employees working at IBM Canada Lab) as well as exploitation of POWER7 features!

Nigel Fortledge, VP IT Gat HY International, took a customer perspective and discussed how Power systems helps GHY tackle their challenges and problems every day. Notable to me was when Nigel mentioned that to him, HA means dual redundant systems with HA/DR software whereas to his management it meant having the system you got stay up 24X7! Pressure… Nigel’s company pioneered with consolidation, virtualization and  utilization with their POWER systems and hve been leaders in exploiting Open Source for commercial environments. Now he is keen on social networking and marketing enabled with Web2.0. Yep, that’ll help make a smarter planet and eat up that processing capability on those 8-core sockets!

IBM users love to hear from their peers so Nigel has a personal invitation from the TUG to come to TEC 2010 to share GHY experiences with our group.

In summary, the most valuable part of the session was IBM’s effort in bringing our community together… in person!! It was much appreciated. In our climate of non-stop webinars, teleconferences, wikis, you tube videos, it’s refreshing to be with your peers and be able to absorb new ideas and announcement in the flesh. How great to see so many of your peers with common interests in the same place. Readers would keep that in mind the next time a “real” event comes to town, such as our IBM-TUG MoM on Feb 17th. Technical vitality, networking and ability to absorb important new news is much better done in person. And so, the “elegant wine reception” as IBM advertised it, was one of the most valuable features.


Power 7 Roundup

I was at the Power 7 Champions pre-briefing in Austin Tx Jan 11th week and, now that its official, have the following to report for you. I’ll focus on HW in this blog entry, and cover software as we move forward.



2010 will be a year when major computer systems vendors trot out the newest 8 core per socket computer chips and tout vastly increased performance, energy profiles and workload optimization.  Presumably they will boast about how much better their chip is than the competitors while convincing installed base to upgrade in order to scale and become more energy efficient. Interestingly, far fewer vendors will legitimately remain in this race:  Sun Microsystems is an uncertain state and, HP’s “Tukwilla”, (essentially refreshed Itanium )is as doomed as the (T)itanic. This leaved two clear front runners, IBM and POWER 7 and Intel with Nehalem EX.

 IBM’s Power 7 has jaw-dropping technical specifications and compares to Power 6 in the following way:

 POWER7 has 8 cores per chip vs 2 on POWER6. It can also run  with 6 cores or 4 cores in “turbo” mode. Turbo shuts down 4 of 8 cores and, increases the clock speed while sharing the L3 cache slicing the “pie” amongst fewer cores (more cache/core)..

  • 45nm vs 60nm technology. The POWER7 lithography size continues to shrink and takes advantage of IBM patented used Cu, SOI, eDRAM technology
  • 567mm2 vs 341mm2 size. The physical chip size is less than twice as big considering it includes 8 cores and the L3 cache.
  • eDRAM: greater density – 1/3 space of 6T SRAM, less power requirement – 1/5 standby pwer, better performance – 6:1 latency improvement for L3 access vs external, greater bandwidth- 2X on chip interconnect
  • Transistors: 1.2B vs 790M (functional equivalency of 2.7B) P6 due to efficiency of eDRAM transistor: data ratio. This resulted in savings of 1.5B transistors and enables L3 to go on chip. Furthermore eDRAM has 250X better soft error rate than DRAM provides better RAS.
  • 3.0 to 4.1 .Average clock speeds are lower, saving energy/heat while delivering equal or better per core performance
  • L2 256 KB/Core vs 4MB/core. L2 cache design is completely overhauled due to L3 on-chip. The savings in size/transistors is leveraged by L3.
  • L3 32MB on chip vs 32MB off chip L3 cache. Breakthrough both in throughput and #transistors delivers 6:1 latency improvement over external L3. Allows for dramatic reduction in required L2 cache and results in  2x bandwidth improvement
  • 4 way SMT per core vs 2-way on Power 6  results in net 32 threads/chip. This is twice threads per core and 8* threads per chip.
  • Memory controller:  100GB/s memory bandwidth 100GB/sec per chip
  • Up to 32 sockets with 360 GB/s SMP bandwidth/chip
  • LPARS 10/core: the same LPAR per ratio is maintained but upper limit is moved to 1000 LPAR per top system
  • Out of Order execution. P6 went back to in-order to save transistors but with new efficiency, Out Of Order is back in and means systems can run faster.
  • New Power Bus for GX throughput
  • 4th Gen SMP Fabric bus as distributed switch

 Net: 4X performance, t 3X performance/watt of POWER6 servers. More than doubles performance per core from POWER5 and better than POWER6 . When used in TurboCore mode: 1.5X P6 performance per chip.

 A look at the new models to be announced (Hi End and Low end to come later in the year)

 Model  750: 4u (Energy Star Compliant)

4 sockets with

    • 6 cores @ 3.3 or
    • 8 cores @ 3.0, 3.3, 3.55

Contrasted to the Model  550 it replaces:

  • 24 core (4 sockets)  vs. 8 core
  • 512 GB memory vs.  256 on 32DIMM slots
  • 8 SFF DASD (no 3.5”)


Model  755: 4u … new market – low end HPC cluster node

  • 4 socket 32 Core HPC node @ 3.3GHz Energy Star compliant
  • 2-Port infiniband 12X DDR
  • Certified with IBM HPC software stack
  • AIX , Linux (no i)

Model  770: 4u

  • Up to 4 enclosure including 2 sockets each with
    • 6 cores @ 3.55 or
    • 8 cores @ 3.1 . Energy Star compliant

Contrasted to the Model 570 it replaces, (all new design)

  • 16 core per enclosure vs 8 core per enclosure max
  • 512 GB memory vs 192
  • All PCIe

Model  780: Seems to fit in a special IBM 19” cabinet

  • Up to 4 enclosures including 2 sockets each with
    • 4 cores @ 4.1GHz TurboCore  or
    • 8 cores @ 3.8 GHz



  • PS700 – 4core single socket
  • Ps701 – 8 core single socket
  • PS702  16 core double sized


You may need to do a double take on these facts: How can the per core performance improve while clock speeds are reduced? Simply, lower latencies and twice the threads per cores.

How can the energy envelope for 8 way be similar to 2 way (up4 X efficiency?). For this, the IBM processor engineers deserve the credit. First, this is impacted by lowering the number of transistors/per c ore and second by using sensible clock speeds. If you keep in mind that the energy use increases at log scale as processors reach maximum frequency, the solution to “turn down” clock speeds in order to save power makes sense and also sets the stage for “turbo mode” which we described. Customer vying to save software licences by maximizing performance/core (Oracle) can take advantage of this feature. Customers who may pay per user (SAP) may prefer the more efficient and scalable standard mode.

How will this compare to Nehalem?

On the surface, similarities between the chips are obvious. IBM is quite afraid of this baby. It pays to point out the finer detail and big impact.

  • 2 thread vs. 4 thread per core – Highly threaded should get double performance.
  • 10-20% overheads for VMWare and other virtualization on Nehalem based on benchmark publication bare metal vs. VMWare. IBM says all their benchmark results are from virtualized systems.
  • 60% vs 80% optimal workload utilization factor vs 40-60. Expect higher utilization

Better SMP and horizontal scalability with POWER.

IBM officially says POWER7 is targeted to the following markets:

  • Accelerate Migrations from Sun, HP and other UNIX Markets (sized at $8B)
  • Consolidate workloads from Intel/Windows/Linux/Solaris to Power (sized at $30B)
  • Protect base and minimize leakage to Nehalem

My take is that the POWER processors and systems announced will have value to customers who genuinely care about performance, scalability and RAS. In other words, for a small shop looking at a low cost for a 4 u desk side server who can’t fathom needing more than  cores to run their system. Big customer may eat this stuff up but for SMB-sized… we need to keep in tune with Smart Business.

HMC Update:

Polaris is the codeword for project to  Integrate HMC & IVM Functionality with Systems Director.

All configuration, service and management capabilities provided by the HMC and IVM today will be supported natively in IBM Systems Director (with some minor exceptions). IBM System Director will be the primary platform management tool for newer hardware.

Polaris is the next generation Hardware Management Console (HMC) combining:

  • The functionality of the HMC
  • The simplicity of the Integrated Virtualization Manager (IVM).
  • The value-add function of Systems Director

Polaris will be delivered as a Systems Director Appliance (both Physical and Virtual). 

Polaris will support P6 and P7 hardware (including blades). The virtual implementation will be targeted to VMWare and KVM virtual image.

I sense good education and consulting opportunity to transition customers to Director.

Active Memory Expansion Model 770 780

There was plenty talk about this. It’s a way to use “spare” CPU cycles to effectively give more memory capacity to the partition using compression / decompression of the contents in true memory

Interested in more. Come to our MoM on Jan 17th at IBM Canada Lab!