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IBM Updates AIX, POWER7 Lineup

October 11, 2011

I install POWER7 systems at customer sites all around the country. Once customers get their hands on these new systems, I find that people are wowed by the hardware speed. Especially impressed are those customers who upgrade from machines a generation or two back, like POWER5 machines.

This week IBM is announcing some changes to AIX and the POWER7 lineup. Although the entry servers will still be known as the 710, 720, 730 and 740 and the enterprise servers will still be called the 770 and 780, they will all have new model and machine type numbers. This is intended to help customers differentiate the new servers from the old, though it's important to understand that these machines are not POWER7+. General availability is set for Oct. 21.

Here are the new numbers:

Model      Machine Type

710          8231-E1C

720          8202-E4C
730          8231-E2C

740          8205-E6C

770          9117-MMC

780          9179-MHC

All of the POWER7-enhanced systems end with the letter C, while of course the current models end in B, so it's easy to determine which system type you have.

Another change made in the interest of clarity is that the 710 and 730 no longer share the same machine type and model. Also note that the 740 is no longer available as a tower -- it's exclusively rack-mounted now.

Enhanced I/O Capabilities and Higher Memory Densities 

The biggest changes in the hardware revolve around the enhanced I/O capabilities and the increased memory densities across the servers. The servers all benefit from PCIe Gen2, which, according to the announcement details that I saw, provides "twice the I/O bandwidth which will enable higher performance, greater efficiencies and more flexibility." Keep in mind that if you're not driving your Gen1 PCIe adapters to the point where they become your bottleneck, simply switching to Gen2 won't magically give you better performance. However, you will get better utilization of the hardware going forward with Gen2.

PCIe Gen2 provides for more I/O ports available per adapter. You'll now see dual port 10G Ethernet cards and 4-port 8G fibre adapters. You'll be able to push SAS data out at 6G per second vs. the current generation's 3G per second. The new 5913 Large Cache SAS adapter has 1.8 GB cache and can drive up to 72 HDD or 26 SSD, or you can mix and match the drive types with this adapter. A huge improvement with this card is that it no longer has batteries, so you won't have to worry about replacing them. If it loses power the card will use a capacitor and write to flash memory. Note that this card won't be available before Oct. 31.

Gen2 allows you to more fully virtualize your systems by pushing more I/O with fewer adapters. With the new Gen2 adapters, you'll benefit whether it's fibre, SAS, networking or infiniband. Moving forward, we can stop thinking about PCI-X and concentrate solely on PCIe.

These new systems have more PCIe I/O slots in the CEC, with greater functionality per slot. The familiar IVE/HEA adapter is replaced with a standard 2-port 1 GB Ethernet card (on the entry systems) and an integrated multifunction card (on the enterprise machines). The latter consists of a 4-port card with two 10GB Ethernet ports and two 1 GB Ethernet ports, plus USB ports and a serial port.

There were four card slots in the entry level CEC; now the entry systems have five slots that can be populated, while the enterprise machines have six slots per CEC. Considering the optional half height cards that can be added to the 720 and 740, you can have up to 10 total cards by counting the standard Ethernet card that comes with the system (though you can't use another card in place of the Ethernet card in that slot).

This announcement also includes new DIMM sizes: 64 GB in the enterprise server space and 16 GB in the entry systems. This allows the new "C" models to have greater maximum memory: 128 GB on the 710, 256 GB on the 720 and 730, and 512 GB on the 740. The new 770 and 780 models can have up to 4 TB of memory in the 4 node system, 1 TB per CEC.

If you need even more cores, a 96-core large capacity 780 server is available. Imagine pairing up 96 cores and 4 TB of memory on your 780. In addition, a clock speed tweak brings the 770 to 3.3 and 3.7 GHz, depending on whether you chose six or eight core per socket. The 780 can max out at 3.92 GHz.

Finally, watch for larger capacity 15K SFF SAS drives and a 1 TB RDX removable disk drive. The latter is positioned as an intriguing alternative to tape.

As you'd expect, customers can continue to upgrade to the latest technology from existing systems, including POWER6 570s and 520s.

PowerVM and AIX Updates

Besides hardware improvements, changes are coming with PowerVM and AIX. Active memory mirroring is a feature where the hypervisor has two copies running at the same time, with both copies being updated simultaneously. In the (rare) event of a hypervisor memory failure on the primary copy, the second copy will be invoked with notification sent to IBM. This capability was previously available on the 795, but now with the new machines it comes standard on the 780 and as an option on the 770.

With AIX 7 TL1 expect to see a new feature called active system optimizer, which is designed to autonomically improve workload performance (AIX 7 on POWER7 only). A new network option you can set is called tcp_fastlo, which enables TCP fast loopback. This reduces TCP/IP overhead and lowers CPU utilization if two TCP endpoints are on the same frame (e.g., communication between two processes in the same LPAR).

In addition, AIX features JFS2 filesystem enhancements that allow admins to tune performance by altering filesystem caching. This can be accomplished without having to unmount filesystems. Compared to earlier AIX releases, there's a 50 percent reduction in JFS2 memory usage for metadata.

Other software enhancements include:

  • A new logical volume manager option to retry failed I/O operations indefinitely. This capability can aid in recovery from transient failure of SANs, for instance.
  • AIX 5.3 WPARs, which follow on the current AIX 5.2 WPAR offering. This allows you to run 5.3 workloads inside of AIX 7 into the future (i.e., even after IBM eventually ends its support of AIX 5.3). AIX 5.3 TL12 SP4 is required to make use of the 5.3 WPARs.

With the new C models, these versions of AIX and VIOS are supported:

AIX 5.3 TL12 SP5
AIX 6.1 TL5 SP7
AIX 6.1 TL6 SP6
AIX 7.1 TL0 SP4
AIX 7.1 TL1
VIOS 2.2.1

  • A new offering called PowerSC provides automated tools for security and compliance standards on PowerVM virtual machines. Using trusted logging, you can capture and compile AIX audit information from LPARs in real-time. (Did someone make a dynamic change to an AIX LPAR?) Trusted boot cryptographically signs and validates boot images before they're started, while trusted network connect verifies that a boot image that's trying to connect to the network is at the correct security patch and update level. Finally, prebuilt compliance profiles match industry standards like PCI, DOD and SOX.
  • Another new capability is active memory deduplication. It's available on the new machines running the new firmware, and is used in conjunction with active memory sharing. Active memory deduplication allows systems containing duplicate memory pages to remove those duplicates while fitting similar workloads within any physical memory constraints.
  • PowerVM offers its own improvements. Live partition mobility operations can potentially run at twice the previous speed while performing up to eight LPM operations at once. Network balancing allows for load balancing across backup and primary shared Ethernet adapters. Shared storage pools are also enhanced. These PowerVM capabilities are available on the new VIO server. I'll definitely write much more on this soon.
  • A new entry level analytics system, the 7710, is meant for customers that don't need the full capacity of the existing 7700 offering. While coming in at about half the price of the 7700, the 7710 is a fully optimized and integrated solution that can be used in test and dev environments. It's targeted for those with data warehouses under 10 TB.

There are also updates to PowerHA SystemMirror, including an SAP LiveCache Hot Standby solution, and PowerHA Federated Security, which provides for centralized administration via System Director, along with additional supported storage options to use with HA (including XIV, the V7000, the SVC and DS8800 and options from EMC, Hitachi and HP).

Finally, keep an eye out for coming changes to documentation, installation, configuration, management and packaging. Although some of these improvements aren't quite ready, IBM's intention is to make PowerVM quicker and easier to install and configure. Look forward to things like no-touch VIOS installation, GUI-based VIOS installs, VIOS setup and validation tools, and the capability to manage VIO servers as a pair rather than individually.


Posted October 11, 2011 | Permalink

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