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IBM Boosts Server Performance, Security with New Chip

After previewing its new Power 7+ microprocessor at last month's Hot Chips symposium at Stanford University, IBM launched on Wednesday the first products that harness the processor's increased computing power: enhanced versions of its Power 770 and 780 high-end servers. Big Blue also unveiled updates to its top-of-the-line Power 795 server, new high-end storage products and software offerings for its zEnterprise EC12 mainframe.

The Power 7+ chip represents the newest in a line that has helped IBM, a close second behind HP in IDC's most recent server market report, to differentiate its offerings in an x86-dominated world. While the company also builds x86-based systems, the Power line has populated the company's highest-end servers. IBM claims the newest iteration offers 2.5 times more L3 cache memory than its predecessor and a 10% to 20% boost in clock speed, with Power 780 systems offering either a 128-core configuration running at 3.72 GHz or a 64-core configuration running at 4.42 GHz. Power 770 systems are available at 3.8 GHz with 64 cores or 4.2 GHz with 48 cores.

Satya Sharma, an IBM fellow and CTO of the company's Power Systems division, said in an interview that aggregate performance gains may vary depending on workloads, but that "virtuals such as Java can expect performance boosts as high as 40%." Sharma said the updated members of the Power server family should appeal to large enterprises because of enhanced security, including crypto-accelerators that permit encryption and decryption without the typical performance penalties. He also cited isolation standards that accommodate multitenancy in clouds.

A new feature called Elastic Capacity on Demand lets users spin up additional processing power as needed. If customers don't use all the cores in the machine, they don't have to pay for the ones they aren't using, says Tracy Sullivan, a representative of IBM's External Relations group. Rather, these "dark" cores can be activated later. Power 780 and 795 servers, the latter of which will continue to use Power 7 chips for the present, will come standard with credits that let customers turn on dark cores for up to 15 days before usage charges are applied. Sharma said cores can be pre-programmed to shut down or awaken ahead of time, such as in anticipation of a heavy use period.

As mentioned, the Power 795 server is not yet being upgraded to the Power 7+ processor, a decision that Sullivan said was made based on current customer needs. Nevertheless, the offering maintains its status atop the product family, thanks to memory capacity that now tops out at 16 Tbytes and new 64-Gbyte dual in-line memory modules. The enhancements are aimed at organizations running computationally intense applications, such as data analytics programs.

IBM's virtualization services for managing cloud-based infrastructures have also been upgraded. PowerVM supports IBM AIX, IBM i and Linux environments, and will now support 20 virtual machines per core, double the previous amount. The company claims virtual machines can be moved three times faster than before, and simultaneous migrations can be executed 4.7 times faster.

In addition to servers and software, IBM's parade of announcements also included new storage products. The IBM System Storage DS8870 upgrades from its predecessor's Power 6+ chip to a speedier Power 7 processor, and also includes up to 1 Tbyte of system cache, delivering increased performance. The DS8870 also offers self-encrypting drives. IBM Virtualization Engine TS7700 Release 3, meanwhile, lets administrators virtualize their existing tape libraries. The system also supports end-to-end encryption.

Finally, IBM also announced software for its zEnterprise EC12 mainframe, which debuted in August. IBM claimed the DB2 Analytics Accelerator V3 appliance supercharges the analytics process, providing query response times up to 2,000 times faster than before. IBM Security zSecure Suite v1.31.1 adds security by monitoring for threats in real-time and performing network analytics to help administrators spot unusual activity before a compromise occurs.