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IBM Boosts Power4+ for Entry pSeries.

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Starting next week, IBM Corp will begin delivering its 1.45GHz Power4+ processors in its entry pSeries 615 servers.

According to sources, IBM has been having minor yield issues with the Power4+ processors, which is why the company only announced the pSeries 615 machines with the 1.2GHz version of the Power4+ chips back at the end of May. IBM has also rolled out Ultra320 SCSI peripherals, its "Federation" system interconnect switches, and the Linux-on-Power implementation of its clustering software.

The faster 1.45GHz parts will be available for the pSeries 615 starting on October 24. This server can have one or two of the cores on the single Power4+ chip activated. The pSeries 615 supports from 1GB to 16GB of main memory, and from 36GB to 584GB of internal disk capacity in four hot-plug drive bays. An additional storage chassis can be attached to the pSeries 615 to give it four more drives, or up to 1.2TB of disk capacity. The machine has six PCI-X slots, two SCSI channels, and two Ethernet NICs (one 100Mbit, one Gigabit) on its motherboard; it comes in a 4U deskside tower configuration that can also be mounted in standard 19-inch racks.

A base pSeries 615 with a single 1.2GHz Power4+ core activated, 1GB of memory, and a 36GB disk drive costs $5,745 with an AIX license and one year's worth of software maintenance. This machine can also be equipped with a third party Linux license from SuSE. As customers buy bigger pSeries 615s, a Linux discount kicks in. A two-way pSeries 615 using the 1.2GHz cores with two 36GB disk drives and 8GB of main memory costs $15,600 with an AIX license and software maintenance, while a Linux-ready version of the same iron costs $14,600. Using the faster 1.45GHz Power4+ cores, the base configuration is to have two cores activated with 2GB of main memory and two 36GB disk drives. With a Linux license, this Express configuration costs $9,985, and with an AIX license and a 12-month software maintenance contract it costs $12,495.

Oddly enough, IBM is charging a $990 premium for two cores running at 1.45GHz speed versus 1.2GHz when running Linux, and $2,500 when the same machine runs AIX. IBM usually makes the difference in price between an AIX and Linux system the cost of a Linux license on a pSeries, which is about $2,500. But it seems unable or unwilling to do that for the low-speed entry pSeries 615, and that probably has to do with the need to make profits. Perhaps more significant is the fact that a pSeries 615 with two 1.45GHz cores, memory, and disks costs 40% less than a pSeries 630 machine with the same configuration.

To further boost the performance of its pSeries systems, IBM has also announced a PCI-X dual-channel Ultra320 SCSI and SCSI RAID 5 disk controllers. Some existing pSeries Ultra3 disk drives and system backplanes that were designed to support Ultra320 through a microcode upgrade have been rebranded as Ultra320 to make it easier for IBM's customers and partners to match the right disks and adapters to the right servers. New peripherals are also available for the current pSeries product line. The PCI-X dual channel Ultra320 SCSI RAID 5 adapter costs $2,615 or $2,834, depending on the pSeries model, while the plain PCI-X Ultra320 SCSI adapter costs $608 or $658, again depending on the server it plugs into. These Ultra320 cards, says Jim McGaughan, director of pSeries marketing at IBM, cost the same or less than the prior generation of Ultra160 cards and deliver twice the performance. The Power 275 workstation and the pSeries 615 and 655 servers had an integrated Ultra320 RAID controller on their system boards already.

Companies who use parallel Unix servers to run technical computing or business intelligence workloads will probably be more interested in the new "Federation" High Performance Switch that IBM announced for connecting multiple Power/AIX servers together into a parallel supercomputer. The "Colony" SP2 switch is IBM's second generation parallel interconnection switch for parallel computing. It was first available in August 2000. All prior IBM machines between 1995 and 2000 used the first generation SP switch. The Colony switch offered 1GB/sec bi-directional links between server nodes in a cluster, and the Federation switch has four times the bandwidth with 4GB/sec bi-directional links. That is the same bandwidth that the main system bus for memory and CPU clustering in the prior generation of pSeries 680 S-Star based servers offered, and it is also the bandwidth of the system bus on the eight-way pSeries 655. So the interconnect between Power4 nodes in a cluster can, in theory, approach that offered by an SMP cluster a generation back. This is real progress.

McGaughan says that the latency - a measure of how long it takes to communicate between nodes in the parallel cluster - was between 17.5 and 18.5 nanoseconds using the Colony switch, depending on how far apart the nodes were from each other in the cluster. With the Federation switch, latencies have dropped to 10 to 12 nanoseconds, and he says that IBM's systems engineers will be working like crazy over the next six months to get that latency down to 5 nanoseconds.

The Federation switch connects directly to the GX main memory/system bus inside pSeries servers, and for the moment is only available for the pSeries 655 (eight-way Power4+) and pSeries 690 (32-way Power4). At the end of October, IBM will be able to deliver Federation switches that can support 16 nodes of either pSeries 655 or pSeries 690. By July 30, 2004, IBM will deliver a Federation switch that can support 64 pSeries 655s, as well as 32 pSeries 690s plus another optional 32 pSeries 655s. (A 64-node configuration on one Federation switch will not be available for the pSeries 690.) Companies that want to build bigger parallel machines do so by daisy chaining multiple Federation switches and their nodes together. Indeed, this is exactly how IBM is going to build the 100 teraflops ASCI Purple parallel supercomputer for the U.S. government's Department of Energy.

Finally, IBM's Cluster Systems Management (CSM) program, which is the kicker to the PSSP parallel clustering software IBM developed originally for the RS/600 PowerParallel machines in the mid-1990s, is now available on the pSeries server line running SuSE Linux. CSM is already supported on AIX-Power platforms and Linux-on-Intel platforms (in that case, on Red Hat Linux); it is also available on the Opteron-powered eServer 325 machine running SuSE Linux.
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Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 17, 2003
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