The IBM POWER6 processor-based System p570 is a midrange server that aims to deliver outstanding price/performance while providing mainframe-like reliability and availability. This 19-inch rack-mount system, which can handle up to 16 POWER6 cores, is best-suited to database and application serving, as well as server consolidation.
"The first server to use the new POWER6 processor is the System p570," said Jeff Howard, director of System p offering management for IBM (Armonk, N.Y.). "The p570 leverages the chip's many breakthroughs in energy conservation and virtualization technology."
POWER6 Packs a Punch
The modular p570 takes over from its predecessor, the IBM POWER5+ processor-based System p5 570 server. POWER6 processors can run 64-bit applications while concurrently supporting 32-bit applications. They feature simultaneous multithreading, allowing two application threads to be run at the same time.
"At 4.7 GHz, the dual-core POWER6 processor doubles the speed of the previous generation, POWER5, while using the same amount of electricity to run and cool it," said Howard. "This means customers can use the new processor to either increase their performance by 100 percent or cut their power consumption in half."
Dan Olds, principal of Oregon-based Gabriel Consulting Group, believes the p570/POWER6 combo is an impressive one. The new processors come in 3.5 GHz, 4.2 GHz and 4.7 GHz flavors. IBM has effectively doubled the frequency over its predecessor without increasing the number of cores on the chip.
"The POWER6 [processor] has two cores, each of which can simultaneously execute two threads, an approach known as simultaneous multithreading (SMT)," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata (Nashua, N.H.). "POWER6 processors also have integrated memory controllers in order to improve memory access times and thereby application performance."
He pointed out that changes in the way POWER6 processors connect to each other and to the rest of the system flatten latency differences. There are also new specialized execution units and reliability features. Compute power is able to double largely because POWER6 has more than 790 million transistors compared to 276 million in the POWER5+. The amount of Level 2 Cache has gone up to 8 MB from just under 2 MB.
More to Come
While POWER6 has been released and is functioning currently in data centers, it is not quite a finished article. IBM is introducing more features later this year, such as Live Partition Mobility and Live Partition Migration. Live Partition Mobility, for example, will move a running Logical Partition (LPAR) from one physical server to another. It functions below the level of the operating system, at the hypervisor level; works only with the upcoming AIX 6 (currently in beta), AIX 5.3, and Linux; and the servers must all be on the same network subnet.
Haff said AIX 6 contains several major new features, including role-based access controls, a Trusted installation option and new "Workload Partitions" (WPAR). WPAR are resource groups similar to Solaris Containers or virtual servers that can be migrated from one server to another.
"I think that enhancements to the overall system, particularly the Live Partition Mobility feature, are big news and will provide the most business value to customers," said Olds. "With Live Partition Mobility, IBM users can move active workloads from one physical server to another with no application interruption, no loss of transactions, and no user impact."
With such functions added to the already impressive POWER6, Olds believes the IBM p570 will gain major ground in the marketplace.
"This arguably means the end of planned application downtime and can eliminate perhaps half of overall application downtime, which is a big deal," said Olds. "This is much more sophisticated than VMware's VMotion and is a feature that their competitors will need to address."
Howard of IBM boasted that the POWER6 chip is nearly three times faster than the latest HP Itanium processor that runs much of HP's midrange server line. Thus, it will likely reinforce IBM's lead in the Unix servers market. According to research firm IDC (Framingham, Mass.), the company has a 29.6 percent revenue share in Unix.
"The p570 is the first server to hold all four major benchmark speed records for business and technical performance," said Howard. "In fact, the System p 570 now holds more than 20 benchmark records."
The p570 currently supports AIX 5L (v5.2 or later), the upcoming AIX 6, as well as Linux distributions from Red Hat (RHEL 4 Update 5 or later) and SUSE Linux (v10 SP1 or later).
The starting price for a basic version of the server is $60,000. IBM was reluctant to give out more details of pricing and configurations. Per its Web site, the minimum is a 2-core version operating at 3.5 GHz, so presumably that is what is obtained for this price. Each p570 building block accommodates two processor cards, each of which provides two 64-bit POWER6 processor cores, 8 MB of Level 2 (L2) cache and 32 MB of Level 3 (L3) cache. Each processor card has 12 slots for DDR2 (double data rate 2) ECC memory DIMMs, providing memory capacity of up to 192 GB per building block.
|Dimensions||4U rackmount; 19" by 32.4" by 6.85"; Weight: 140 lb|
|Processor Details||2- to 16-core POWER6|
|Hard Drives||Six hot-swappable SAS disk bays per building block provide up to 7.2 TB of internal disk storage, up to four building blocks|
|Operating Systems||Supported by AIX 5L (V5.2 or later) and Linux distributions from Red Hat (RHEL 4 Update 5 or later) and SUSE Linux (V10 SP1 or later) operating systems; AIX6 is in beta|
|Configuration Options||The base configuration starts at $60,000 for a 2-core processor, 3.5 GHz, 64MB L3 cache, 16 GB system memory, and 2 x 73.4GB SAS 15K rpm internal storage. A high-end, system begins at $2 million before IBM discounts. This is a 16-core version running at 4.7 GHz.|