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An LPAR Review

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In 2006 IBMer Charlie Cler wrote a great article that helps clear up confusion regarding logical, virtual and physical CPUs on Power Systems (“Configuring Processor Resources for System p5 Shared-Processor Pool Micro-Partitions”). This subject still seems to be a difficult concept for some people to grasp, particularly those who are new to the platform or are unfamiliar with the topic. But if you put in the research, there are a lot of quality resources available.

I recently saw Charlie give a presentation to a customer where he covered this topic again, and I based this article on the information that he gave us that day, with his permission.

When you're setting up LPARs on a hardware management console (HMC), you can choose to have dedicated CPUs for your LPAR, which means an LPAR exclusively uses a CPU; it isn't sharing CPU cycles with any other LPAR on the frame. On POWER6 processor-based servers you can elect to have shared, dedicated processors–where the system allows excess processor cycles from a dedicated CPU’s LPAR to be donated to the shared processor pool.

Instead of using dedicated or shared dedicated CPUs, you could choose to let your LPAR take advantage of being part of a shared pool of CPUs. An LPAR operates in three modes when it uses a shared pool: guaranteed, borrowing and donating. When your LPAR is using its entitled capacity, it isn't donating or borrowing from the shared pool. If it’s borrowing from the pool, then it's going over its entitled capacity and using spare cycles another LPAR isn't using. If the LPAR is donating, then it isn't using all of its entitlement, but returning its cycles to the pool for other LPARs to use.

In his presentation, Cler shared some excellent learning points that I find useful:

  • The shared processor pool automatically uses all activated, non-dedicated cores. This means any capacity upgrade-on-demand CPUs that were physically installed in the frame but not activated wouldn't be part of the pool. However, if a processor were marked as bad and removed from the pool, the machine would automatically activate one of the deactivated CPUs and add it to the pool.
  • The shared processor-pool size can change dynamically as dedicated LPARs start and stop. As you start more and more LPARs on your machine, the amount of available CPUs continues to decrease. Inversely, as you shut down LPARs, more CPUs become available.
  • Each virtual processor can represent 0.1 to 1 of a physical processor. For any given number of virtual processors (V), the range of processing units that the LPAR can utilize is 0.1 * V to V. So for one virtual processor, the range is 0.1 to 1, and for three virtual processors, it's 0.3 to 3.
  • The number of virtual processors specified for an LPAR represents the maximum number of physical processors the LPAR can access. If your pool has 32 processors in it, but your LPAR only has four virtual CPUs and it’s uncapped, the most it’ll consume will be four CPUs.
  • You won't share pooled processors until the number of virtual processors exceeds the size of the shared pool. If you have pool with two LPARs and four CPUs, and each LPAR had two virtual CPUs, there would be no benefit to sharing CPUs. As you start adding more LPARs and virtual CPUs to the shared pool, eventually you'll have more virtual processors than physical processors. This is when borrowing and donating cycles based on LPAR activity comes into play.
  • One processing unit is equivalent to one core’s worth of compute cycles.
  • The specified processing unit is guaranteed to each LPAR no matter how busy the shared pool is.
  • The sum total of assigned processing units cannot exceed the size of the shared pool. This means you can never guarantee to deliver more than you have available; you can’t guarantee four CPUs worth of processing power if you only have three CPUs available.
  • Capped LPARs are limited to their processing-unit setting and can’t access extra cycles.
  • Uncapped LPARs have a weight factor, which is a share-based mechanism for the distribution of excess processor cycles. The higher the number, the better the chances the LPAR will get spare cycles; the lower the number, the less likely the LPAR will get spare cycles.


Rob McNelly is a Senior AIX Solutions Architect for Meridian IT Inc. and a technical editor for IBM Systems Magazine. He is a former administrator for IBM. Rob can be reached at

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