IBM Unveils POWER7 Processor, Unix Servers


IBM on Monday unveiled servers based on its new POWER7 processors as part of a strategy to displace Hewlett-Packard and Sun in the decreasing market for Unix servers.

IBM on Monday unveiled four new POWER7 server models which it said could lead to a consolidation of smaller servers into fewer larger ones while cutting data center energy costs.

The Unix server market is in a steady decline. IDC in December reported that in the third quarter of 2009, Unix server revenue dropped 23.4 percent compared to the same period in 2008. It totaled $2.8 billion in the quarter, accounting for 26.9 percent of quarterly server spending.

However, for IBM, it remains an important market. IDC, in that same report, said that IBM's share of the third quarter 2009 Unix server market grew 5.1 percent over that of the prior year, giving it a 39.5 percent market share.

The new POWER7 processors feature eight cores per processor, each of which can run up to four threads for a total of up to 32 congruent computational tasks. For workloads that require extra memory, they feature Active Memory Expansion which uses memory compression technology to make the physical memory on the server appear as if it were actually twice what is actually available.

An important strength of the POWER7 processors is its virtualization capability, said Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide POWER strategy and marketing.

Servers based on the POWER7 processor can support a maximum of 1,000 virtual servers per physical host, compared to 250 per host with IBM's POWER6, which can have a big impact on data center costs, Handy said.

"We see customers moving x86 processor workloads to POWER because of energy costs," he said. "Energy has become the Achilles Heel of the data center. Data centers are running out of power."

For IBM, the new POWER7-based servers give Big Blue a chance to increase its share over both Sun, which is experiencing turmoil as part of its being acquired by Oracle, and HP, Handy said.

IBM currently is offering up to $8,000 per SPARC processor core, including its Niagara SPARC processors, to customers who migrate from Sun to IBM's POWER servers, and was able to convince about 400 Sun Unix customers to do so in 2009, Handy said.

"You can put 92 Sun Niagara-based servers on one 4-socket POWER7 server," he said. "Even with the newest Niagara servers, you can still move 27 of them to one POWER7 server."

IBM has also migrated about 200 HP Unix customers to its POWER servers in 2009, and expects that number to grow in 2010 as HP depends more on Intel Nehalem-based servers, which do not run HP-UX, which is HP's version of Unix, Handy said.

IBM on Monday unveiled the Power 780 and the Power 770, both of which can be configured with up to 64 POWER7 processor cores.

The main difference between the two is the TurboCore feature in the Power 780, which Handy said lets customers turn on and off processor cores for different applications.

In an 8-core POWER7 processor, customers can use TurboCore to turn off four of the cores, which then lets the remaining four cores access 100 percent of the processor's cache memory to enable faster processing for certain applications, he said. Turning off processor cores also cuts the cost of software for applications which are licensed on a per-core basis.

Also new is the Power 755, which features up to 32 POWER7 processor cores, and the entry-level Power 750 Express.

The Power 750 Express and the Power 755 servers are expected to ship in volume starting February 19, while the Power 770 and Power 780 servers are expected to follow on March 5.