RealTime IT News

IBM Maps Out Next-Generation Power 7 Chip

IBM said Tuesday that it plans to release a new RISC processor, called the POWER 7, in the second half of 2010. Given the questions swirling around the continued survival of Sun Microsystems' hardware once Oracle finishes its purchase of the company, by the time these chips come out, they may be the last major RISC platform on the market.

Despite some fairly big changes in the structure of the POWER 7, IBM (NYSE: IBM) is promising backwards compatibility with the existing POWER 6 architecture. IBM's System 575 and System 595 are what it calls "book upgradable." A large device, called a book, holds the CPUs and memory systems and can be replaced without having to upgrade the whole system.

"In the past, IBM has had to do 'forklift upgrades' when it went from one architecture to the next," said Nathan Brookwood, research fellow with Insight 64, a semiconductor consultancy. "This lets people preserve what they already have and get further life out of it."

Indeed, IBM acknowledges that this helps customers preserve investments in their high-end systems and also calms fears of being the server only to have it be obsolete in six months, since it is upgradable.

Steve Sibley, manager of Power Systems Offering Management at IBM, said IBM is not sitting still, despite owning 37 percent of the Unix server market compared to 24 percent for Sun.

"We're now the highest performing processor in the industry. Certainly Nehalem [from Intel] has narrowed that gap," he told InternetNews.com. "They certainly came out with a very strong processor from a performance standpoint. So were extending our performance leadership with more performance per core."

IBM is also extending the number of cores. POWER 6 only has two cores per processor. POWER 7 will have up to eight. Despite that, Sibley said the chips will have three times the performance of POWER 6 in the same power envelope.

IBM is also focused on virtualization improvements and increasing the processor's consolidation capabilities. For customers looking to consolidate, the POWER 7 will support up to 1,000 virtual machines on a single system.

"This is not a business where you can rest on your laurels," Brookwood said. "It may very well be that Sun's out of the running but Intel is still there with Itanium and you also have the ever-increasing move of x86 servers into the high end space. So you have to keep going."

New virtualization software

Along with the new processor, IBM announced that the PowerVM hypervisor that partitions Power Systems machines has a feature called Live Partition Mobility, which will give customers control over their systems and allow them to move workloads from one machine to another.

Although the POWER 7 is a RISC-based system and not compatible with x86 servers, the new systems software, called IBM Systems Director VMControl, gives clients a tool to manage virtual servers. They can discover, display, monitor and locate virtual resources, bring up new virtual environments or move them from one system to the next.

Sibley said the software would even allow for migration of a virtual machine from different vendors, like HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) to IBM System i machines. The one requirement, besides that they all be x86, is using the same hypervisor. A virtual machine using Microsoft's Hyper-V cannot be used to a machine running VMware's ESXi.