Having the right hardware to support a virtualized system or data center may be key to future cost and energy savings.
IBM introduced some eagerly awaited hardware and some unanticipated, but very nifty, software for the i community at COMMON this week in Reno, Nevada.
At the opening session, Jeff Howard, marketing director for IBM Power Systems, gave an entertaining but brave presentation in place of Ross Mauri, general manager, IBM Power Systems, who was delayed by weather in Chicago on his way to Reno. Previously arranged plans to leave for China ensured that Mauri would never make it to the conference. So despite suffering from a touch of what appeared to be a bit of the crud going around the conference, Howard gave attendees a complete rundown on the new Power Systems hardware and software offerings.
The announcements weren't as jaw-dropping as those last year in Nashville, when IBM announced it was converging the i and p platforms into Power Systems, but they filled a few gaps in the i platform product line and introduced a few good upgrades in areas that everybody can never get enough of: resource management, particularly virtualization, and speed--as in a mind-numbing 5.0 GHz processor. If anyone ever thought the venerable AS/400 was a dog (and the early ones might have been a little slow), they can put that notion behind them for good with the POWER6 processors running now at a wondrous 5.0 GHz. Wow!
The announcements were part of IBM's broader "dynamic infrastructure" initiative. For more on that from a release issued earlier this week, click here.
Jeff Howard, IBM marketing director for Power Systems, addresses COMMON attendees.
Here is a rundown on the new hardware and software announcements:
Blades--IBM introduced two new blades at the show: the BladeCenter JS23 and the JS43 Express. The blades use 4.2 GHz POWER6 processors and are available in four-core or eight-core configurations. They can have 32 MB of Level 3 cache for each core pair and can handle simultaneous multithreading. Capable of running 64-bit applications on i, AIX, or Linux operating systems, the blades can be locked together for a convenient upgrade if and when more horsepower is required. IBM was quick to point out that a BladeCenter JS23 with four cores delivered twice the performance of an HP 860c Itanium blade, according to industry benchmarks. The company says the blades "represent one of the most integrated platforms for i with a high degree of deployment flexibility, energy efficiency, scalability, and manageability." The blades support new IBM solid-state drives for I/O-intensive applications and support IBM's PowerVM virtualization software. The company says the new blades are best suited for "driving demanding performance and memory intensive workloads, such as virtualization and infrastructure consolidation, database and transaction processing, and high performance computing (HPC) applications." Because of their performance and consolidation capabilities, the new blades are expected to help reduce software licensing costs. In short, these blades rock.
Virtual Tape Support--IBM announced virtual tape support for all BladeCenter implementations as well as IBM i. For now, there is support for only LTO4 tape drives, but that seems to be the flavor most users today want. Virtual tape support can help simplify backup and restore operations and migration from tower/rack systems to a blade environment, the company says.
Power Systems Servers--IBM introduced new editions of its Power 520 and Power 550 Express servers running the great super-fast Power processors. The servers come with either 4.7 GHz or the amazing 5.0 GHz POWER6 processors. The Power 520 Express is marketed to smaller businesses, and readers may wonder what the difference is between the Express and Enterprise models. The main difference is that the Enterprise models have Capacity Upgrade on Demand capabilities and hot-plug processor/memory "books." Even the Express models are quite capable, however, when it comes to expansion and storage expansion needs.
Virtualization--IBM's PowerVM virtualization software, which is purchased by 65 percent of all users who buy Power Systems servers today, now has what IBM is calling Active Memory Sharing. This highly interesting feature is designed to increase memory utilization on systems that are running partitions with variable memory requirements. Active Memory Sharing, instead of dedicating memory to partitions, can pool memory and automatically flow the memory between partitions as demands shift. In effect, Active Memory Sharing allows Power servers to support a combination of dedicated and shared memory partitions and is optionally configurable on a partition basis, the company says. IBM demonstrated Active Memory Sharing at its booth at COMMON. The company says it might be used, for example, where systems are partitioned to serve different parts of the world, or for day and night workloads. Memory can automatically be moved from the partition that is winding down to the partition that is coming online. Needless to say, moving memory is a bit different from moving processor workloads, and there is a bit of a lag between moving from one operation to another, so it's not as dynamic. The company said its Active Energy Manager software is an important tool in reducing energy use and allows users to control energy usage in the data center.
Solid-State Drives--The company announced a line of new solid-state drives for Power Systems, which, it turns out, are ideally suited to take advantage of solid-state-drive capabilities. Solid-state drives offer much faster I/O response than traditional disk drives, so there is a payoff in both performance as well as energy savings. Because of the higher cost of solid-state drives, the approach that IBM and other manufacturers and systems integrators are taking is to use a blend of solid-state and traditional drives and employ the faster drives where they are needed most. Whereas traditional drives run at their optimal performance when they are only half full, solid state drives can run much closer to 100 percent capacity and still provide excellent performance.
1.5 GB Cache SAS Disk Controller--The new controller supports both POWER6 and POWER5 machines and provides significant performance enhancements, the company says. It has been tweaked to provide improved performance for IBM i applications and is intended to allow users to move to the more cost-effective SAS-based disk infrastructure.
Enhanced i Edition Express for BladeCenter S--The i Edition Express for BladeCenter S delivers an integrated business system, including a JS12 Express blade server, IBM i for 10 users, and a BladeCenter S chassis--all at a reasonable price. The newly announced enhanced edition provides more memory in the base configuration and supports virtual tape and the preload of IBM i.
DB2 Web Query--The query and business intelligence software now has a new spreadsheet plug-in for Microsoft Excel and supports integration with Microsoft SQL Server-based data. The software was featured at the Key Information Systems booth at COMMON, where the company (recently renamed Key Info) demonstrated its mobile client for Smart i.
MySQL--MySQL has delivered a storage engine for DB2 on IBM i. This allows PHP applications to write directly into DB2.
IBM i Operating System--The company announced that another "major release" of the IBM i operating system will be released in 2010. IBM is working with the COMMON Advisory Council on improvements, and there is a lot of complementary development going on between IBM i and AIX teams, which helps bring new technology to the i platform faster. The next release of the OS will offer native support for XML objects, enhanced support for disk clustering, automated exploitation of solid-state drive technology, and enhanced support for Virtual I/O Server (facilitating the sharing of physical I/O resources between client logical partitions within the server).
While some users may not think IBM's announcements this year at COMMON were earth-shaking, the enhancements are part of a very large initiative at IBM to expand on the use and capabilities of virtualization under its dynamic infrastructure initiative. We will be hearing more about IBM's dynamic infrastructure vision in the future along with its core virtualization technologies. In the meantime, as one IBM manager summed it up: "Dynamic infrastructure is a process. You can't buy dynamic infrastructure; you can only implement dynamic infrastructure."