In the Wheelhouse: That's a Pretty Big Penguin You've Got There

Analysis of News Events
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

This week, we're talking Tux. IBM announces the 7R4 Linux-only Power iron and inks a deal with EnterpriseDB for its PostgreSQL database as a low-cost Oracle alternative.


IBM announced on July 30, 2013, its next offering in the Linux-only Power Systems models, the IBM PowerLinux 7R4.


As per the press release:


The IBM PowerLinux 7R4 (8248-L4T) server is a powerful 2-socket or 4-socket server that ships with 16 or 32 fully activated cores and I/O configuration flexibility to meet today's growth and tomorrow's processing needs. The server features:

  • Powerful POWER7+ DCM processors that offer 3.5 GHz and 4.0 GHz performance with 16 or 32 fully activated cores
  • Up to 1024 GB of memory
  • Rich I/O options in the system unit: Six PCIe 8X Gen2 slots in the system unit; Two GX++ slots for I/O drawers; Six hard disk drive (HDD)/solid-state drive (SSD) SAS small form factor (SFF) bays and integrated SAS I/O controllers;Integrated Multifunction Card with four Ethernet, two USB, and one serial port; One hot-plug, slim-line, SATA media bay per system unit (optional)
  • Service Processor
  • Redundant hot-swap ac power supplies in each enclosure
  • 19-inch rack-mount 5U configuration
  • EnergyScale technology
  • PowerVM (IBM PowerVM for IBM PowerLinux )


The IBM PowerLinux 7R4 (8248-L4T) supports up to four POWER7+ processor dual chip modules (DCMs). Each of the four processor DCMs is an 8-core DCM packaged with 2 x 4-core chips. All 8-core processor DCMs are either 3.5 GHz or 4.0 GHz mounted on a dedicated card with a granularity of one DCM in a 19-inch rack-mount, 5U (EIA units) drawer configuration. Each POWER7+ processor DCM is a 64-bit, 8-core processor packaged on a dedicated card with a maximum of 64 DDR3 DIMMs, 10 MB of L3 cache per core, and 256 KB of L2 cache per core. A PowerLinux 7R4 can be populated with two or four DCMs, providing 16 or 32 cores. All the cores are active.


The PowerLinux 7R4 server supports a maximum of 64 DDR3 DIMM slots, 16 per 8-core processor DCM. Memory features (two memory DIMMs per feature) supported are 8, 16, and 32 GB and run at speeds of 1066 MHz. A system with four DCMs installed has a maximum memory of 1024 GB.


The PowerLinux 7R4 server delivers great I/O expandability. In addition to the six PCIe Gen2 slots in the system unit, up to four 12X-attached I/O drawers (#EL36 or #EL37) add up to 40 PCIe Gen1 slots. This set of PCI slots can provide extensive connectivity to LANs, switches, SANs, asynchronous devices, SAS storage, tape storage, and more. For example, more than 64 TB of SAS disk storage is supported.


The new 4-pack SSD package (#ESRA) offers ordering convenience and price savings for a new server order. A 4-pack SSD feature ESRA for the 7R4 system unit or EL36 I/O Drawer can provide up to 90,000 I/O operations per second (IOPS) in just 1/7th of 1U drawer. The 4-pack SSD must be ordered with the server, not as a later MES order.


The PowerLinux 7R4 server system unit includes six SFF SAS bays. This offers up to 5.4 TB HDD capacity or up to 3.6 TB SSD capacity. All SAS disks and SSDs are 2.5-inch SFF and hot swappable. The six SAS SFF bays can be split into two sets of three bays for additional configuration flexibility, using just the integrated SAS adapters.


OK, it cooks. It's a higher-end Power server designed to take on systems like the HP DL580. Based on the price list offered with the announcement, you're looking at a system between $60,000 and $70,000, depending on the configuration. Now when you stack them up against the competitors, the price may be similar, but IBM is confident that the numbers pitting x86-64 workloads against POWER workloads speak for themselves. If you're getting more processing power per dollar, such as POWER's ability to run 4 threads per core compared to Intel's 2 threads, it really starts to make sense. I had a great chat with Chuck Bryan, who's the Team Lead for Linux on Power Systems. He said "Take Java-based workloads in virtualized environments, for example. With the new 7R4, the performance is potentially 40% better."


Last year, IBM began rolling out smaller variants of the PowerLinux 7Rx family. If you look at the first Power Systems 7xx series that ran IBM i, AIX and Linux were not 720s. They were the 750, 755, 760, 770, and 780 models. After that, the 795 was released along with the SMB iron: 720, 730, and 740 with the little 710s, named internally as "street fighters," coming later. The release of the 7Rx family in that regard, in my humble opinion, was a testing of the waters a little by coming out first with the smallish 7R2 and then the less-powerful 7R1. IBM climbed back up the performance ladder, culminating with the 16- and 32-core 7R4 just announced, essentially the innards of a Power 750.


Bryan also tells me that Linux on Power has been on a great growth trajectory over the course of the time IBM has supported it, reaching its install base numbers faster than IBM i or AIX did in the past. What I liked about our conversation was not necessarily the impressive speeds and feeds, or that IBM is committed to attacking the potential for more Linux growth worldwide, or the success of the initial 7R2 and 7R1, but that you can hear his enthusiasm for PowerLinux come right through the phone.


This was an aptly timed press release as I just went to Ubuntu Linux on my Lenovo W720 as of last week. This is the first time I'm running Linux distribution on a laptop since 2003 or so, when I had a copy of SUSE 8.2. I've also got a SUSE Enterprise 11 partition I carved out on my little Power 720 using Virtual Partition Manager. The biggest change I've seen by coming back to the Linux world after such a long time was maturity. The switch to Ubuntu on my laptop was literally a lighthearted whim. I was in a bit of a rut, I wanted a change, and I knew that most tools I use are web-based, so I wouldn't be up the creek if I jumped ship on Windows 7 without a safety net. Client software I use, like IBM Access Client Solutions, is Java-based and gives me a control panel and console if I need it. RDi has Linux support. Yes, there's a bit of a learning curve, but I'm really liking Linux because it's very stable and I don't have to worry about the things that hurt my experience 10 years ago. Long gone are my days of wrestling with device drivers and having major sound-card compatibility issues. I was up and running in about 37 minutes, including download time, with a fully functional system. If you don't believe me, check my Twitter feed from about a week ago. The point is, I could concentrate on the real value: applications. I could learn and experiment with what apps worked best for me without much difficulty. Breaking out of the comfort zone just a bit is really liberating, and it opens you up to new options.


Power Systems sales have been not-so-great in Q2, but I like seeing IBM keep coming with more options, more servers, more configurations, and more promotions. Although Linux is not IBM's most widely deployed operating system and I'm not using it as my primary business platform (I'm using Linux to augment IBM i workloads), what's good for Power Linux is good for IBM i and AIX. When IBM puts these offerings out, it helps the overall POWER platform and brand. That's what's really important about this announcement.


IBM has also paired with EnterpriseDB to bring its optimized open-database platform PostgreSQL to Power Linux:


EnterpriseDB's Postgres Plus Advanced Server provides clients access to a low cost database that supports ongoing and new business applications. According to EnterpriseDB, the new solution is a fraction of the cost of an Oracle database deployment and enables seamless migration."


"Switching databases has traditionally been costly and risky due to limited application compatibility and lack of comprehensive migration tools and resources EnterpriseDB's Postgres Plus Advanced Server and IBM Power Systems solve this problem by providing extensive Oracle compatibility functionality, migration tools and expertise that can deliver significant cost savings while allowing many Oracle based applications to run virtually unchanged," said Ed Boyajian, President and CEO, EnterpriseDB.