An Easy Path to the Power7


The top server vendors know they can always get press on their latest models, but the fact is that most devices are simply reconfigurations of whatever technology is in vogue at the moment.

That's why the sharper eye tends to look past the latest x-9000 or z1200 box to zero in on what really matters in the server: the processor. And while processor technology has been moving ahead at a steady clip -- what with dual cores, quad cores, the Nehelem, and so on -- that paradigm is due for a revision of sorts with the upcoming release of IBM's Power7 device.

Aimed at the UNIX community, the 45 nm chip is on schedule to make its debut in the first half of 2010 in four-, six- and eight-core configurations. What makes it unusual is that IBM is also unveiling a targeted software stack that not only adds to the system's virtualization and management capabilities, but delivers a smooth means of transitioning from current Power6 architectures.

The idea behind the Systems Director VMControl is to provide a toolkit aimed at what will inevitably be a heterogeneous environment once the new processors are deployed. The system provides tools for the management of virtual servers, offering the ability to consolidate up to 1,000 virtual machines onto a single physical server. It also includes what the company calls the Live Partition Mobility module that allows you to import Power6 applications to machines that have been retrofitted with Power7 chips, ensuring availability of those apps throughout the process.

It also should help IBM maintain a steady flow of Power6 machines out the door by allowing an easy reconfiguration of today's 570 or 595 machine to the new Power7 architecture. All you need to do is move workloads off of the old box, swap out the old chips, and then shift the workload back when you're done.

It's important to note, however, that the Power7 architecture is the tip of the veritable iceberg when it comes to advanced server processors. Intel is close to debuting both the Tukwila quad-core Itaniums and the eight-core Nehelem EX devices early next year, while AMD is gearing up the 12-core Magney-Cours Opteron and the G34 chipset.

A little farther out is the eight-core Venus Sparc64-VIII unit from Fujitsu, although the debut of the 16-core Rock UltraSparc-RK chip is looking a little hazy following the company's acquisition by Oracle.

In all of these cases, expect the new chips to both outperform and out-green today's technology by a fairly sizable margin, and that's saying something considering the current generation of processors aren't exactly slouches.

True, there is still the issue of adding multi-thread capability to most of the enterprise software out there so it can take advantage of the growing number of cores, but the heat is already on the development community to get up to speed lest they find themselves unable to meet the demands of their clients.

In the meantime, expect to see a steady flow of new server models in the channel, much like the new car models that flood showrooms every fall. No doubt they'll look pretty, but as any car aficionado knows, the real action is under the hood.