IBM extends Power5+ to high-end servers

IBM will upgrade its System p5 590 and p5 595 servers with faster processors next month.

IBM aims to turn up the heat on Unix server competitors, but turn down the heat in the data center when it upgrades two high-end System p5 servers next month.

The company will release upgraded versions of its System p5 590 and 595 Unix servers on August 11, said Jeff Howard, IBM's director of System p5. In the new servers, more powerful Power5+ processors will replace the Power5 chips used in the original models, he said. The new processors yield performance improvements of 20 percent to 25 percent, he said.

The p5 590 will hold up to 32 Power5+ processor cores running at 2.1GHz and 1T byte of memory, while the p5 595 will hold up to 64 Power5+ cores running at up to 2.3GHz and 2T bytes of memory, making it the company's most powerful server, IBM said.

A top-of-the-range 64-core p5 595 will cost US$3.46 million, equipped with 2.3GHz Power5+ processors, 256G bytes of memory and two 36.4G-byte disk drives excluding the OS license, around the same price as the original model with 1.9GHz Power5 processors. At the other end of the scale, an eight-core 2.1GHz p5 590 with 32G bytes of memory and two 36.4G-byte disk drives will cost US$421,074, the company said.

The Power5+ processor first appeared in low-end System p5 servers last October, but those chips ran slower than the models that will be introduced in August, at 1.9GHz, Howard said.

"We started at the low end with the lower frequencies which are easier to manufacture. As you go along, you get the yields you need to support the higher frequencies" needed for high-end servers, he said

Speed is not the only thing that differentiates the 2.1GHz and 2.3GHz Power5+ chips from their slower cousins: IBM is using a new production technique it calls "dual stress" to pack different kinds of transistors closer together on the chips. "You get higher performance with better power efficiency," Howard said.

Better power efficiency means systems run cooler and so more servers can be packed closer together in the data center without overheating.

Overall system performance is more important than computing power per square meter of floor space, however, Howard said. When it comes to server consolidation, virtualization software can play as big a role as packing more processors in a rack. The new systems can support up to 10 virtual servers, or partitions, per processor core -- although IBM's management software imposes an upper limit of 254 partitions, he said.

Virtualization, however, makes it harder for organizations to attribute the cost of hardware to the departments or applications that use it. To simplify that task, IBM will offer a version of its IBM Tivoli Usage and Accounting Manager (ITUAM) for the new System p5 servers. The software is already available for the company's System Z servers, Howard said. Using data already captured by Version 5.3 of IBM's AIX OS, ITUAM can break down charges by cost center, application, server and so on, he said.

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