IBM Announces Power 7+ Servers – A Better Fit For Cloud Computing

Power 7+ Highlights

  • Increases the number of virtual machines from 10 to 20 per core – decreasing the minimum processor resource to 5% for software development
  • Increases L3 cache from 4MB to 10MB per core, making 80MB shared per chip
  • Increases frequency – Power7+ frequency now up to 4.4GHz
  • Aims to increase the number of private Cloud deployments through its Smart Cloud Enterprise and Tivoli Automation Manager software
  • Allows for utility pricing with its Elastic CoD (On/Off) offering
  • Is putting the new chip in 770 and 780 – but not 795 – systems
  • Delivered through $1.4B research and development investment Should win over x86 VMware customers through offering cheaper virtual machines, higher performance, easier deployment and better management software


There has been a major shift towards x86-based servers since the Credit Crunch in 2008 and an overall lessening of the importance of servers based on RISC and Itanium processors. However IBM has undoubtedly been doing better than its 2 nearest competitors (see Figure 1), due in part to significant investment in its Power chips ($1.4 billion for today’s launch of the Power7+ chips, systems and software for instance) and its bottom-up approach to computing. You’ll want to see how its latest announcements are designed to keep the trend going.

What Has IBM Announced?

The new chips announced today are going into IBM’s Power 770 and 780 (but not the 795) servers. These are servers towards the top of IBM’s overall range, which includes:

  • IBM Power 710 Express, Power 720 Express, Power 730 Express, Power 740 Express, Power 750 Express, Power 755
  • Power 770 and Power 780 - the machines being updated today
  • Power 795
  • BladeCenter PS700 Express, PS701 Express, PS702 Express, PS703 Express, PS704 Express
  • IBM PowerLinux 7R1, IBM PowerLinux 7R2
  • IBM PureFlex p260, PureFlex 460 and PureFlex p24L

Its rationale for not upgrading the Power 795 is that the Power 795 was the last system introduced with Power7 and as such was introduced with the highest frequency, up to 4.25GHz, at its launch. Its clients prioritise stability, IBM says, and many have invested with plans for growth on their existing asset and likely have significant available capacity. As a result, they would be un-inclined to pull out all their nodes and migrate their DIMMs at this point in the life cycle (IBM had similar strategy with its Power6 generation): it reports however that a few 795 users are considering purchasing the new 780s as well.

Faster Chips With More Resources

There are numerous features of the new Power7+ chips. In particular:

  • Built using a 32nm process, the chips run up to 4.42MHz
  • It includes 10MB L3 cache (up from 4MB) per core, giving a total of 80MB shared per chip
  • The servers can now run up to 20 virtual machines per core (up from 10), which is significant for software development as a single core will now take up a minimum of 5% of processor resources.
  • It has added a Dynamic Platform Optimizer, an Active Memory Expansion Accelerator and on-chip encryption for its AIX operating system (the Power series also runs iOS and Linux of course)
  • The Power 770 (9117-MMD) series has up to 48 cores (4 x 12 core 4U sized nodes) running at 4.2GHz, or 64 (4 x 16 core nodes) at 3.8MHs
  • The Power 780 (9179-MHD) series has up to 64 cores (4 x 16 core nodes) at 4.4MHz, or 128 cores (4 x 32 core nodes) at 3.7MHz
  • It offers seamless growth via Capacity on Demand and has added more flexible Elastic Capacity on Demand (On/Off CoD) enablement keys to both systems, allowing for utility pricing.
  • It now includes built- Elastic COD (formerly On/Off) for the 780 with Power7+ processors and Power 795 systems, essentially offering an initial quantity of no-charge processor and memory day credits as standard

New Power Systems Pools allow up to 10 Power 780s with Power7+ processors, Power 795 servers, or a mixture of the two to aggregate Elastic CoD credits and billing for simplified administration and to share virtual processor and memory resources in support clients’ business resiliency initiatives.
IBM has also taken the opportunity to tune its management software, operating systems and tools to take advantage of the new chip. We note that many of the new features are designed for ease-of-use and Cloud deployments.

Better For Cloud And Advanced Virtualisation

In terms of the use of Power Systems for private Cloud deployment, the presenters indicated that 80-90% of customers are using advanced virtualisation, but not all are using self-provisioning and other functions that some analysts would classify as ‘true Cloud’ usage. In particular while many deployments qualify as private Clouds from an IT administration point of view, not all allow developers to request and provision their own resources via self-service portals. It addresses this usage model through its Smart Cloud Enterprise software and offers other advanced Cloud functions in its Tivoli software. The Technical University of Munich is a good example- it uses Tivoli Automation Manager for provisioning, billing and charge-backs.

Some Conclusions – Ease Of Use Essential For Alternative Processors

This is a highly technical announcement, with IBM having to explain the advantages of the new chip as well as the new systems and software modifications and, as usual it takes absolute responsibility for its systems. It is encouraging its customers to use automation software in order to move to advanced private Cloud deployments.
With the decline in HP Itanium and Sun/Oracle Sparc server shipments IBM is beginning to stand alone in this market in the way it does in the mainframe one. It still believes that technical R&D and investment from the chip-level up can create strong profits. The systems announced today are coupled with an extensive set of software enhancements to address customers’ explicit data, Cloud, security and compliance needs – a value creation model it intends to continue. Its PowerSC, Trusted Surveyor, Solution Edition for Cloud, SPSS and Cognos software are good examples of how it leverages both hardware and software investments to deliver additional value and optimisation to clients.
However for most of the IT world ‘x86’ and ‘server’ are synonymous: even if the price per virtual machine is cheaper and performance higher with Power-based servers, expectations of difficulties in understanding and deploying these different machines are a strong barrier to consideration. We admire IBM’s attention to ease-of-use and deployment, which will make life simpler for its existing AIX and IBM i customers, while the use of Power processors in its PureFlex systems already makes adoption a possibility for new ones. We believe that it will also be able to win over a significant number of current x86 server customers running VMware virtualisation software through its strong economic and usage arguments.

5 Responses to “IBM Announces Power 7+ Servers – A Better Fit For Cloud Computing”

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  1. Without fully analysing all the particular model details the processing capacity will impressive.

    However, these products are targeted at companies with large budgets who want the best.

    The new markets in Cloud will be low-cost, low-energy “best bang for the buck” servers in millions of units.

    Recent research indicates “at least” 50% of future Running Costs of Cloud Servers will be energy costs.

    Experts in this feild know more than I, but if you have hi-powered, hi-density servers and ancilliary equipment heat and cooling is more of a problem, which requires consequentially more energy to fix.

    It seems that IBM client don’t regard energy as a problem. I am sure Google and Amazon do.

    Just guessing, but it may be Cloud server companies may be planning to generate their own power from geo-thermal in Iceland to Solar in the Deserts.

    There has been talk of Dell burying Cloud servers underground where temperatures do not fluctuate between day and night.

    I can’t help thinking these powerful IBM servers are a bit like GM cars, gas-guzzlers.

    But I guess IBM are really seeing that Cloud is crucial to their success and things are beginning to move technologically.

    • Karl says:

      Hi Rich
      I think the difference is that companies like Google are using things like wind power to run systems which are inherently inefficient. That power could be used in other ways if more efficient technology was being used. Sticking them in the ground is only going to go so far and work for so long.. it is a

      Take a look at The Green List http://www.green500.org/lists/green201206 BlueGene/Power systems hit the top 10.

      If you want to look at something even bigger, take Sequoia, more than one and a half times faster than its nearest competitor, it is almost two and a half times more energy efficient. A BBC article cover this http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-18457716

      The recent opening of The City of Barrie data centre is a good example of how IBM is bringing in new, energy and cost efficient designs that can actually grow with unstoppable growth in data. The design can save up to 30% in energy costs over traditional severs.
      http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/38927.wss

      Another example is kika/Leiner, a furniture retailer that is typical of what we see in growth markets. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIA4lmNuOg0&feature=share&list=PL31AE4045B9B8B478

      • Hi!
        thanks for the links-for some magical reason I have had triouble Googling good precise research on energy. I will go over this latter. My view is energy is the majority of CapEx of Cloud servers.
        What is needed is a hard and fast set of rules for comparison.
        I am hoping your links will help.

        IF there is no standard yet, IT Candor could do better than most in the clear definitions of standards for comparison.(Your name is close to candle power, a measure of light energy!)

        I personally, am not worried about global warming-just worried that we can’t afford green taxes in the depression-many old/poor will freeze this winter-the first deadly victims of global warming.

        In my view Energy is the elephant in the room.

    • Rich, cloud is not magical. It’s software running on hardware like everything else, except someone else manages/hosts it.

      • Hi!
        I can see that in a gradual change scenario, Cloud is old hat in some respects.

        But with the growth in low-cost omni-prescent Smart devices (we all use when travelling) and the move worldwide from “mobile” to Smart device, even in the very poorest cities, a tipping point should be reached where private/private business/SOHO Cloud users move up to 7 billion and cheap Cloud servers are necessary, or services become unaffordable to most.

        Leaders in this technology will be the winners overall.

        Expensive, branded, customised designs are fine. Just not in the game until the price is reduced.

        So the magical ingrediate is low cost, low CAPEX. I am certain that in specialised areas, there will still be IBM designs, just not the IBM brand.

        Obviously, this is speculation, not statistics, but IBM is in the speculation business as well-I wonder what they envisage?

        Thanks for your comment-without discussion, the truth is elusive.

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