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IBM Power Systems Server Buying Guide

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted April 6, 2012


According to IDC, IBM is No. 1 in overall server sales, with 36.5 percent market share. Its Power Systems (AIX, IBM i, Linux) are a big reason for this. Within a declining UNIX market, IBM grew UNIX server revenue in 2011.

"Starting around a decade ago, IBM made a strong commitment to developing Power system technology, particularly in the areas of processor development and virtualization, and these investments have paid off by moving IBM from third to first in the Unix/RISC system market," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "While they still fight the competitive battles with HP and Oracle, their major threat comes from customers using x86 based servers to handle mission-critical or performance sensitive workloads."

That's good reason to provide another IBM Power Systems Buying Guide -- our first since late 2010. In that time, IBM has made several changes to its UNIX platform. In April 2011, it announced a Power Systems refresh that included:

  • New 16-core, single-wide IBM BladeCenter PS703 and 32-core, double-wide IBM BladeCenter PS704 blade servers
  • Enhanced IBM Power 750 Express -- the same system that powers IBM Watson was upgraded with several options, including a faster Power7 processor
  • Enhanced IBM Power 755 -- a high-performance computing cluster node with 32 Power7 cores and a faster processor.

No Power7 Systems have been discontinued since our last guide.

George Gaylord, Enterprise Power Offerings Manager at IBM, splits Power Systems into two classes of servers -- Express and Enterprise systems.

Power Express

There are five Power Express systems -- Power 710, 720, 730, 740 and 750.

"Our Power Express servers deliver leading performance in their class vs. competitive systems and the industry's most reliable and secure environment for clients to run their business," said Gaylord.

Power 710/730 are 2U systems aimed at delivering good price/performance, while the Power 720/740 are 4U systems with more I/O expandability, and the Power 750 is the highest performance and most scalable model in the Express family.

Going into more depth, the Power 710 has up to 8 cores and the lowest entry price of the Power7 servers. The Power 720 is a one-socket model that comes in a rack or tower configuration holding up to 256GB memory. IBM targets it, in particular, at IBM i clients. The Power 730 comes with up to 16 cores to support virtualized applications and infrastructure.

The Power 740 is a 4U rack-mounted, 2-socket (up to 16 Power7 cores) server with up to 512GB memory. Its scale and expansion compared to the 730 make it extremely attractive for growing small and midsize clients.

"The Power 740 Express is ideal for supporting mid-sized database deployments or infrastructure consolidation," said Gaylord. "The latest Power 740 Express Model 8205-E6C adds increased memory capacity and additional high bandwidth Generation 2 PCI-Express slots to provide even greater performance and expansion that make this server attractive for growing small and medium businesses."

At the top of the Express line is the Power 750. It is characterized as a high-performance, reliable midrange server to support database and line-of-business applications. It can be configured with up to 32 Power7 cores at 3.7GHz in a 4U rack-mounted server. Utilizing PowerVM virtualization, users can leverage a Power 750 to consolidate multiple applications onto a single server.

Power Enterprise

A total of three Power Enterprise systemsare available -- Power 770, 780 and 795. Gaylord touts their performance, scalability, reliability/availability and flexibility. Processing-wise, these are the highest performing processors around, with speeds over 4 GHz. The company goes to great lengths to make lots of memory bandwidth available per processor.

"Our Power Enterprise servers have scalability to 64 cores on Power 770, 96 cores on Power 780 and 256 cores on Power 795," said Gaylord.

Other features include capacity-on-demand processors and memory without downtime, Active Memory Mirroring of the hypervisor, and PowerVM-based virtualization.

The Power 770 has up to 4TB of memory and is intended as a platform for consolidation of UNIX or x86 servers. A greater number of processing cores makes the Power 780 better for large transaction and database serving.

King of the mountain is the Power 795, which takes advantage of 64-bit Power7 eight-core processor technology and up to 8TB memory configurations.

"The Power 795 is designed to run at sustained levels of extremely high utilization by leveraging PowerVM virtualization to enable system-wide, dynamic resource sharing across up to 1,000 VMs on a single server," said Gaylord. "It provides massive scale and expandability [to] enable it to support very large database images and significant consolidations of UNIX, IBM i and Linux applications in the largest and most demanding data center environments."

Looking Ahead

Gaylord promises more enhancements in 2012, although he refused to disclose any specifics. So what should IBM be working on in 2012 to increase its appeal in this category?

Dan Olds said he believes that while IBM's Power systems have some technical advantages over their x86 competitors, they're usually at a significant price disadvantage.

"The company needs to do a better job of showing the technical and operational differences between x86 and Power, and then explain the impact of these factors -- what they mean in the real world," said Olds. "It's not enough to just talk about memory-CPU bandwidth, they have to take it to the next step and prove why it's important."

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles based freelancer specializing in all aspects of technology, engineering and renewable energy. Born and raised in Scotland, he received a degree in Geology/Geography from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

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