IBM launches eight-core Power7 processor, servers

Big Blue comes out with new servers and processors

IBM on Monday launched its latest Power7 processor, which adds more cores and improved multithreading capabilities to boost the performance of servers requiring high up time.

The Power7 chip has up to eight cores, with each core able to run four threads, IBM said. A Power7 chip can run 32 tasks simultaneously, which is quadruple the number on the older Power6 chip. The Power7 will also run up to eight times more threads than Power6 cores.

Power7 chips will run between 3.0GHz and 4.14GHz, said Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM's Power Systems unit, during a press event in New York on Monday. The chip will come with four, six or eight cores.

The chips are being made using the 45-nm process technology. The company has made memory-level improvements that should enable the processor to execute tasks faster.

Power7 systems will deliver twice the performance of older Power6 systems, but be four times more energy efficient, Mauri said. The systems will run operating systems including AIX and enterprise Linux offered by Red Hat and Suse.

The new chip also has TurboCore technology, which allows customers to crank up the speed of active cores for performance gains. The technology also puts memory and bandwidth from eight cores behind the four active cores to drive up the performance gains per core.

The company also launched four Power7-based servers. IBM Power 780 and Power 770 high-end servers are based on modular designs and come with up to 64 Power7 cores. The IBM Power 755 will support up to 32 Power7 cores. The company also launched the 750 Express server. The Power 750 Express and 755 will ship on Feb. 19, while the Power 770 and 780 will become available on March 16.

In addition to boosting performance, the Power7 servers can save more energy, IBM said. A technology called Unique Intelligent Energy allows parts of a system to be switched off to reduce power drawn. The technology also allows the processor clock speed to be cranked down on a single server or across a pool of multiple servers, which can reduce power consumed.

IBM representatives declined to provide server pricing, but said it would be competitively priced. The servers will deliver better performance and bang for the buck than existing Power6 systems, said Rod Adkins, senior vice president of IBM's Systems and Technology group.

IBM officials called the chip the "world's fastest processor," but emphasized that system performance will be measured by the ability to deliver "intelligent" performance.

"As we conceived this Power7 system... raw performance was a given. What you will see is a tremendous focus around ... intelligent performance," Adkins said. A mass of data will flood servers as computing expands to devices like mobile devices and smart meters, he said. This data will need to be collected, processed and analyzed on the fly. For example, collecting data will allow utilities to instantly analyze energy usage patterns, and new ways to acquire energy from multiple sources.

Readings from devices like smart meters and sensors could create billions of transactions and petabytes of data, most of which will be unstructured, Adkins said. That will also drive the need for patterning, analytics and prediction capabilities, and IBM has tuned its software stack to take advantage of the highly threaded, high performance scalable architecture of Power7 systems, Adkins said.

In addition to optimizing applications like Websphere and Lotus Domino, the company also worked with SAP to tune applications for multithreaded execution on Power7 cores.

The chip is aimed at industries that require servers with high up time, such as the financial or electric industries, IBM said. The chips is designed for Internet, database or analytical workloads that process a large number of concurrent transactions, the company said.

Emeter, a software company that writes applications for smart meters connected to grids, said the Power7 systems are scalable and able to analyze data faster than their predecessors. Such systems will enable the company to read smart meters faster and provide flexibility to introduce new forms of billing, like charging customers based on electricity usage at different locations.

Rice University has seen the Power7 systems deliver faster computational yields for data analysis related to its cancer research, said Kamran Khan, vice provost of IT at the university. The 128 cores in Power7 systems are able to process data faster, which is critical in research areas including genomics sequencing and molecular dynamics, Khan said.

IBM's Power7 launch could set off a new battle in the high-end microprocessor market where it competes with companies like Intel, which offers the Itanium chip, and Sun Microsystems, which offers the Sparc chip.

Intel is expected to launch the latest version of the Itanium chip code-named Tukwila on Monday. The Itanium chips go into high-end servers offered by Hewlett-Packard, which competes with IBM in the server space.

During the third quarter of 2009, IBM was the leader in server revenue with 31.8 percent market share, with HP in a close second with a 30.9 percent market share.

The Unix market -- including hardware and applications -- is considered to be flat or falling with the onslaught of x86 servers into the server market. During the third quarter of 2009, Unix server revenue declined by 23.4 percent compared to the third quarter of 2008, according to IDC. But Adkins said that as data collection increases, the need for faster and reliable Unix servers will grow.

"The Unix market is a pretty sizeable and healthy market," Adkins said. The market is expanding to the tune of billions of dollars, and Power systems will continue to rule the space, he said. IBM is providing more aggressive pricing options for Unix servers, which could put Power7 systems in competition with servers in "traditional" areas, Adkins said.

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