IBM introduces 'green' Power7 systems

The new offerings include features to reduce power consumption and for enabling large-scale, real-time systems such as smart grids
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor on

IBM has unveiled systems based on the company's new Power7 processor, with tweaks designed for processing large amounts of data in real time, including the control of smart grids or analytics for financial markets.

The Power7 chips, announced on Monday, are fabricated in a 45nm process and include features designed to improve power efficiency, which IBM said is an increasingly important factor in datacentres based in dense urban areas such as London.

The company has signed up eMeter, one of the principal suppliers of smart-grid systems in the UK, as a customer for the Power7 systems. eMeter's smart-grid systems are offered in the UK via ElectraLink, a supplier of infrastructure and consulting services to British utilities companies.

The UK government has announced plans for every UK home to have smart meters by 2020, which would be the world's largest smart-grid rollout. In the meantime, UK households can sign up for online energy-monitoring tools such as Google PowerMeter.

IBM introduced four new Power7-based systems: the Power 780, a high-end server with up to 64 cores supporting a new feature called TurboCore; the Power 770, a mid-range enterprise server with up to 64 Power7 cores; the Power 755, a high-performance computing cluster node with 32 Power7 cores, designed for analytics workloads; and the Power 750 Express, a mid-range server designed for energy efficiency and offering four times the processing capacity of its predecessor, the Power 550 Express.

IBM also introduced a new version of its Systems Director management software.

Each Power7 processor now includes eight cores, each of which can process four threads, up from two cores per chip and two threads per core with Power6 systems. That means each Power7 chip can handle 32 simultaneous tasks, up from four per chip in the Power6 design. The new designs also move L3 cache on-chip, implemented as dynamic rather than static RAM; this uses one transistor per bit instead of six, allowing more cache in a smaller die at some performance cost. IBM has not yet made detailed performance figures available.

The availability of up to 32 threads per chip is intended to improve the handling of real-time, internet-based workloads, such as processing millions of smart-meter readings over the internet, IBM said, although certain server systems, including the Power 780, can run in a different configuration. This additional mode is called TurboCore, which runs with only four of the cores active and increases the cache memory and memory bandwidth available to those cores. This mode is intended to reduce costs for the use of software licensed per-core, IBM said.

The Intelligent Threads feature allows the server to adjust the number of threads used at one time — for instance, increasing the number of threads for a smart-grid workload and reducing them for workloads such as analytics or database transactions, where fast processing of individual threads is more important.

The new Active Memory Expansion (AME) feature uses memory compression to make physical memory on the system appear to the application to be up to double its actual size, IBM said. This is designed for software that requires large amounts of memory, such as SAP applications, or for virtualised environments where more memory can be important to performance, according to IBM.

The chips include an energy-efficiency feature called Unique Intelligent Energy, which allows processor clock speeds to be increased or decreased based on thermal conditions and system usage, on a single server or across pools of servers, IBM said. Unique Intelligent Energy can be managed from the new Systems Director software.

The Power 750 Express and Power 755 servers are scheduled to ship on 19 February, while the Power 770 and Power 780 will become available on 16 March, IBM said. The new version of Systems Director will become available on 5 March, according to IBM.

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