Why Upgrading to POWER9 Makes Technical Sense

The feeds, speeds and other specs of the E950 and E980 servers

By Sol Lederman


With the recent launch of the high-end IBM Power Systems E950 and E980 servers, IBM has completed its rollout of the POWER9 processor-based family of servers. Clients running older generations of Power Systems servers may be contemplating upgrading their IT infrastructures by introducing new generation servers into the mix. The first factor many organizations consider when they’re thinking about upgrading are server specs. How fast are the new processors? How many processor sockets are there? How much memory can I pack into a server? How fast is the I/O? While capacity and performance are important considerations, other less obvious factors are equally important.

For some clients, improvements in capacity and performance aren’t compelling drivers to upgrade. For these clients, reasons to upgrade might include ease of creating private clouds, the ability to perform more granular and more scalable virtualization, having an upgrade path that includes a 10-year roadmap, improvements in reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS), and better security. Financial incentives, including pay-as-you-go capacity on demand and the IBM Power to Cloud Rewards Program, may also be considerations.

Feeds and Speeds
The enterprise-class POWER9 processor boasts large-scale multisocket SMP, buffered memory attach, 2× to 4× the memory capacity of POWER8, reduced latency and improved throughput with enhanced I/O support via on-chip PCIe Gen4 and integrated NVMe Flash (2× the bandwidth of PCI Gen3 introduced in POWER8), and high-bandwidth (25 Gbps) links for improved SMP throughput between nodes. The POWER9 processor is a 14nn Silicon-on-Insulator single-chip module with 8, 10, 11 or 12 cores per socket, dynamic frequency of up to 4 GHz to speed up processing, up to 8 threads per core, dual memory controllers and 230 Gbps memory bandwidth.

The most powerful of the new line, the Power Systems E980, offers up to 192 cores, up to 128 DDR4 CDIMMs, up to 64 TB memory, up to 32 PCIe Gen4 slots and the choice of running IBM i, AIX or Linux. Compared to the Power Systems E870C/ E880C, the E980 delivers faster processor response time, a flatter system SMP topology to increase system throughput, 2× the memory capacity, I/O infrastructure designed for PCIe Gen4 that potentially doubles I/O bandwidth with concurrent maintenance to improve throughput and help maintain service levels, improvements in system RAS, and a new distributed clock design that eliminates discrete clock cabling from each system drawer to the System Control Unit.

“Not only can clients share more resources across more VMs and larger VMs to support workload balancing and optimizing within a more reliable system, but the adjustments are executed dynamically and may be automated. VMs may be securely, reliably migrated between systems.”

George Gaylord // IBM offering manager for high-end Power Servers

Simplified Enterprise Cloud
The scale-up E950 and E980 servers deliver a cloud-everywhere solution optimized for private, public, hybrid and multiclouds. The solution includes several key features:

Built-in PowerVM, so every E950/E980 workload is virtualized with accelerated secure Live Partition Mobility (LPM), which compresses then encrypts a workload image to protect data in motion while quickly moving it to another system

Integrated PowerVC, IBM’s OpenStack-based cloud manager, for resource optimization and private cloud management

Consistent enterprise-wide multicloud management with VMware vRealize Suite integration

IBM Cloud Private suite of DevOps tools and app store to create new Power cloud-native solutions

POWER9 clouds provide many benefits, including:

Simplified transfer of VMs between private and public clouds, which enables hybrid use cases

Cloud-ready Power software images to facilitate rapid workload provisioning

Broader availability of term licenses and Software as a Service pricing for Power software and tools

Dynamic resource management, within a system via Capacity on Demand, and across multiple Power cloud servers via Power Enterprise Pools. Pools capabilities even allow for seamless integration of servers from different generations of POWER within a cloud.



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George Gaylord, IBM offering manager for high-end Power Servers

Enhancements to Virtualization
George Gaylord, IBM offering manager for high-end Power Servers, explains the granularity of virtualization on IBM Power Systems. “You can create a VM that is as small as a tenth of a core, and move resources between VMs as granularly as a hundredth of a core and a megabyte of memory,” he says.

On larger, enterprise-class systems, flexibility increases even more. “Not only can clients share more resources across more VMs and larger VMs to support workload balancing and optimizing within a more reliable system, but the adjustments are executed dynamically and may be automated. VMs may be securely, reliably migrated between systems,” Gaylord explains. “And with Power Enterprise Pools, cloud teams may even share compute resources across multiple system footprints to optimize their infrastructure and maintain service levels.”

The ability to flexibly move additional resources to workloads and migrate workloads securely to different resources can provide more cost-effective ways of handling resource spikes so that systems don’t need to be sized and purchased for peak load. Doing so can result in having much of the resource sitting idle for extended periods of time. Gaylord notes that IBM designs its Power Systems servers for very high utilization environments, planning on its systems running 70 to 80 percent sustained utilization.

Longevity and Simplified Transition
IBM is committed to a 10-year roadmap for both AIX and IBM i. Binary compatibility simplifies not only the transition to a newer release of either of the OSes, but it also allows for simple porting of applications from older Power Systems servers to a new POWER9 with great confidence and minimal testing. Binary compatibility is a fundamental feature of POWER processors that spans the different POWER hardware generations. Also supporting the transition, LPM facilitates the migration from previous Power Systems to POWER9 without downtime.

Improved RAS
The “POWER9 RAS Whitepaper,” authored by Daniel Henderson, senior technical staff member, IBM Systems, provides an overview and in-depth coverage of POWER9 RAS features. RAS features make a system more resilient against failures, more highly available, and easier to quickly and efficiently service.

The POWER9 processor improves RAS beyond the solid foundation that has evolved in previous generations. These improvements include greater resilience against serial, power and cooling failures. They also address load capacity, wear out, system clocks and the I/O subsystem. New RAS features also facilitate planned outages. Henderson’s whitepaper details which RAS features are delivered in which of the POWER9 processor-based servers. New cloud features, advanced virtualization and security enhancements, discussed elsewhere in this article, further enhance RAS.

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Improved Security
POWER9 processor-based systems are preloaded with firmware and OS security patches that address known vulnerabilities such as Meltdown and Spectre. The Secure Boot and Trusted Boot features protect systems by only allowing cryptographically signed firmware to run on system processes. These processes include the boot process, the POWER Hypervisor and the partition firmware. Beyond OS image protection, the POWER9 chip introduces accelerated and encrypted live VM mobility. Ian Robinson, IBM Virtualization product manager, explains that compression and encryption allow for quick and secure movement of a VM from one server to another.

Security is also improved in POWER9, in particular the scale-up servers, given their huge resource capacity. Whenever you can move resources to a workload rather than moving the workload to another server you save time and help mitigate security risks incurred when data is in motion, according to Robinson.

Financial Incentives
IBM Power Systems Capacity on Demand can make a large server financially feasible even during periods of lower utilization. The feature helps manage access to resources, specifically memory and processors, during spikes in demand.

Capacity Upgrade on Demand allows for the permanent activation of processor resources in increments of a single core and memory in increments of 1 GB. Capacity is allocated from physical resources already installed in Power Systems so no hardware is shipped or installed. As a result, the allocation can happen instantaneously. With Elastic Capacity on Demand, resources may be activated and then deactivated when no longer needed, thus customers only pay for resources as long as they need them.

The IBM Power to Clouds Reward program also makes the POWER9 processor-based servers attractive to clients. The program helps clients plan their migrations to private and hybrid clouds. Those purchasing the higher-end POWER8 and POWER9 systems earn reward points that they can use to enlist the services of IBM Systems Lab Services consultants to assist in the planning, design and implementation of an IBM Power Systems cloud.

Peace of Mind
Gaylord perhaps makes the most compelling case for investing in POWER9—flexibility. “With POWER9, IT teams have a solid foundation on which they can deploy a flexible on-premises private or hybrid cloud environment instead of moving their crucial, large-scale business applications to a public cloud. Power Systems is a proven platform in leading enterprises, and its deep integration across hardware, hypervisor and OSes is a key reason why it’s been so successful.” For IBM clients providing mission-critical services, it’s hard to put a price on that kind of peace of mind.

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