Big Blue Introduces 64-way Systems

IBM says its new iSeries i595 and pSeries p595 systems are the largest and most powerful non-mainframe systems it has ever delivered

It was a long time in the making, but IBM Corp. is at last a full-fledged member of the 64-way RISC-Unix club.

Last week, Big Blue announced its first 64-way Power5-based systems—destined for both its pSeries Unix line as well as its iSeries midrange servers.

IBM says its new iSeries i595 and pSeries p595 systems are the largest and most powerful non-mainframe systems it has ever delivered. Regardless of the “i” or “p” prefix, the 595 can support a maximum of 64 Power5 processors and 2 TB of RAM—twice the processor complement and memory of Big Blue’s previous flagship system, the pSeries 690.

“The 595 will deliver up to three times the commercial processing performance of [its predecessor] the p690,” says Karl Freund, pSeries marketing manager.

IBM also announced a new 32-way system, the p590, that’s available as part of the pSeries line. Freund claims it’s both faster and cheaper than Big Blue’s one-time flagship, the p690: “The 590 compared to the 690 delivers 45 percent better performance at 40 percent lower price.”

iSeries customers aren’t getting the short end of the stick, however: The i595 is available in configurations of between eight and 64 processors, says Guy Paradise, iSeries product marketing manager. “There will be three configurations, and the largest customers can choose the 64-way."

What kind of customers might opt for 64-way iSeries systems? Typically those that have been doing consolidations of multiple distributed systems, running Windows, Unix, or Linux, says Paradise: “Guys like Caterpillar that have been doing consolidations of their dealer management systems, just have really been anticipating this 595 for the growth and reliability it delivers to them,” he says, noting that the i595 can run i5 OS or AS/400 applications, along with Linux and even integrated Windows servers.

Power4 was one of the first multi-core chips from a major vendor, boasting two processors on a single die. With Power5, IBM has doubled that—and added support for simultaneous multithreading (SMT) technology to boot. This is one reason why IBM claims to be able to deliver such significant performance improvements with the new systems, says Freund. “These systems have twice the memory bandwidth with the new Power5 processor and the new Power5 multi-chip module, which has four Power5 chips on a single module, with associated L3 cache,” he points out.

In tandem with its Power5 launch earlier this year, IBM announced Virtualization Engine, technology that lets customers more effectively partition their systems. In the Power4 era, customers could deploy as many as one LPAR per processor on iSeries or pSeries systems—a far cry from the highly granular sub-processor partitioning capabilities of Big Blue’s zSeries mainframes.

With Virtualization Engine, customers can create as many as 10 LPARs per processor, which—in the case of the 64-way 595 systems—works out to 640 LPARs. Freund, for his part, claims this makes the 595 an ideal deployment platform for truly massive server consolidation scenarios. “How many servers could you consolidate on this machine? You could consolidate 15 four-way Sun v480s, 15-way HP 5470s, a 72-processor sun Enterprise 15K, and an entire Superdome 64-way platform,” he claims. “All of the workloads that you could run on all 256 of those processors could be consolidated on a single p5 595.”

IBM expects customers will deploy its big Power5 systems to support applications other than server consolidation efforts, of course.

“Our high-end [business] is probably mostly high-performance commercial processing, a lot of SAP business, a lot of Oracle and DB2 applications, [and] large Oracle financial data warehousing, so it’s pretty much the full range of workloads that are available on the pSeries,” says Freund. “iSeries does an outstanding job of Domino and other applications that the company perhaps grew up around, but now they’ve outgrown the capabilities of their iSeries platform, and they’re also looking to consolidate all of those Unix platforms on to AIX on iSeries.”

Although competitors Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. both ship larger systems—Sun’s SunFire 15K can support up to 144 processors, HP’s SuperDome can handle 128—IBM has managed to post very competitive numbers in the Transaction Processing Performance Council‘s (TPC) TPC-C benchmark, among other tests. For example, a pSeries p690 outfitted with 32 1.9 GHz Power5 processors notched 1,025,486 tpmC on the TPC-C benchmark—86.5 percent the performance of a 64-way Itanium 2-based HP cluster. Among non-clustered systems, IBM’s p690 benchmark actually surpassed the performance of a 64-way HP Integrity SuperDome system (by 1.7 percent) for first place.

IBM touted SAP and SPEC benchmarks during the 595 launch last week, and Freund hinted that a TPC-C test is in the works. “We’ve given that a lot of thought, but at this time we don’t have a result to announce. We have a lot of customers anxious to find out what a 595 is and they didn’t want to wait for the TPC number to be ready. So we decided to go ahead and launch this now, and then when we have the TPC number ready, we’ll announce it,” he says, adding that “we anticipate the 595 will have almost three times the transaction processing performance of a 690.”

Does IBM expect that there will be a significant market for these massive systems? Freund is confident there is: “There are some customers that had to split their workloads across two p690s, but for the most part, what you’ll see is 16, 32, and 48 processors allocated to the database, and then the other processors being used to consolidate additional workloads,” he says. Freund concedes that he doesn’t know of any customers that are today tapping the p690’s 1 TB of RAM in a single system image. “There are some people doing data mining, credit card validation, fraud verification, but I don’t know if any of them will use [2 TB of memory].”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.