IBM's Power Play

Lauches new, smaller, power processor in an attempt to cut data center energy costs

October 5, 2005

3 Min Read
Network Computing logo

IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is looking to feed off users concerns about the spiraling cost of data center power with today's launch its new Power processors. (See IBM Launches Power5+.)

Power and cooling concerns have had IT managers fretting, a situation exacerbated by recent hikes in oil and gas prices. (See Vegas Blade Warning and Equinix Nabs New LA Data Center.)

IBM is attempting to address these issues by slashing the size of the die, or semiconductor, used on the new Power5+ chip, by 37 percent, compared to the previous version of the technology. The idea is that the smaller the processor, the less power it consumes.

This is a big deal for users, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research. “Here in California the local power company told us that we should be prepared for a 70 percent increase in our power costs this winter,” he says. “If you look at a data center that is using $200,000 of power a year, then a 70 percent increase is a big pain point.”

IBM is also targeting the new processors at high-performance computing. Once the preserve of academics and shadowy government research labs, supercomputers are creeping into the corporate data center. (See Invasion of the Coneheads.)The vendor today unveiled a new high-end Unix server, the Power5 575, to support this push, which offers up to 192 of the new processors. Jeff Howard, IBM Power5 program director, told NDCF that the 16-way 575 can perform at 87.3 Gigaflops, or billions of operations, per second. This figure, he says, is based on the Linpack benchmark, and is more than double the performance of the 575’s predecessor, the 8-way 570 server, which used an older version of the Power5 technology.

Earlier versions of the Power processor account for a sizeable chunk of the sites featured on the latest Top500 list of the world’s major supercomputing sites (See IBM Dominates Supercomputing.) But whether the new server will drive supercomputers into the corporate world remains to be seen. A number of users are turning their back on expensive supercomputers in favor of clusters built from low-cost servers. (See JP Morgan Goes Grid and Statoil Builds Dell Cluster.)

Even Howard admits that the 575 is better suited to applications that need a large number of processors, as opposed to high memory bandwidth. The 575, however, is a good fit for genomic sequencing, computational fluid dynamics, or even the Monte Carlo simulations used in the financial sector, he adds.

King believes that the new server could still help break supercomputing out of its research niche, which is currently characterized by hulking machines such as IBM’s Blue Gene. (See Oak Ridge Plans Petaflop Supercomputer.) “Blue Gene is very much still a custom-built system, whereas the 575 is more of an off-the shelf, commercial system.”

IBM is looking to steal a march on processor rival Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), whose Itanium technology is also aimed at high-performance computing. However, Itanium is going through a rough patch at the moment, with Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) moving away from Itanium-based servers.Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), however, still supports both Itanium processors and its own PA/RISC chips in its Superdome family of servers. Recent signs suggest that the vendor remains committed to the Itanium platform. HP, along with a number of other vendors, including Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), and (surprise, surprise) Intel, launched the Itanium Solutions Alliance last week in an attempt to raise the technology’s profile.

Intel and HP were unavailable for comment for this article.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights