Video Game Tech Helps IBM Power Up Big Systems

Here’s a twist.

IBM said it tapped its videogame expertise to arrive at a performance breakthrough in the new System p5-595, a 64-core high end Unix system, the most powerful member of its p Series line to date. A 32-way p5-590 was also announced.

Both systems are slated to be available in August 11.

IBM  said the p5-595 is capable of a breakthrough performance of more than four million transactions per minute (TPM).

Running IBM’s DB2 9 database software and System Storage DS48000, the p5-595 processed 4,016,222 TPM on the TPC-C benchmark. TPC-C, an industry standard benchmark, measures the ability of a server to process complex online transactions and large volumes of business data.

Last year, IBM released “Dual Stress” technology for videogame systems, designed to boost the processor speed and power efficiency.

IBM scientists said they discovered a way to simultaneously stretch and compress silicon that resulted in as much as a 24 percent transistor speed increase without an increase in power use levels. Now that same technology is being used in the latest p5 systems.

“When you think about what the XBox 360 and some of these other game systems do, it’s not surprising IBM could put the technology to use at the high end,” Clay Ryder, analyst with the Sageza Group, told

“They aren’t just playing images on a program but creating imagery based on physical inputs so its essentially different every time. That’s very complex physics.”

Competitor HP feels its high-end Superdome systems continue to offer advantages to IBM. “We’ve been able to go to 128 core processors for years, but apparently IBM still can’t do that,” said Brian Cox, director of server platform marketing at HP.

“There are a lot of workloads that take advantage of a larger number of cores and also for customers looking to consolidate their server sprawl. We’re offering up to twice as many resources.”

But Ryder thinks the IBM 64-core system is plenty for most demanding workloads, and is impressed by the performance gains IBM has made.

“This is IBM letting people know that its Power5+ processor is far from its limit, and also it’s upgradeable to the next-generation p6 due out later next year.”

Another distinct aspect to the p Series is the virtualization technology is in the hardware, unlike the more typical software virtualization that’s tied to the operating system.

“Our advanced hypervisor runs directly on the hardware and that gives us tremendous flexibility,” said Jeff Howard, IBM’s director of product marketing for the p Series.

Analyst Ryder said there are pros and cons to the hardware and software approaches in virtualization but he gives the overall edge to IBM’s hardware implementation.

“There’s less overhead with hardware because the chip does the work and it’s easier, there’s no dependency on the OS,” Ryder said. “When virtualization is on top of the operating system it’s forever herding cats managing all the processes.”

IBM is also leveraging its Tivoli technology to enhance the virtualization in the new p5 systems.

The IBM Tivoli Usage and Accounting Manager (ITUAM) is designed to let IT departments and outsourcing vendors accurately monitor and bill for individual usage of server resources much as utility companies charge for electricity and water.

The ITUAM can be integrated with a company’s accounting structure by application, business unit, division, department, cost center or project.

ITUAM collects info from operating systems, databases, networks, storage systems, applications and virtualized environments and can “understand” which part of an organization consumes each of these resources and let administrators charge the appropriate department.

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