Posts Tagged ‘SPARC’

Oracle Aims at Intel and IBM POWER

July 8, 2016

In late June Oracle announced the SPARC S7 processor, a new 20nm, 4.27 GHz, 8-core/64-thread SPARC processor targeted for scale-out Cloud workloads that usually go to Intel x86 servers. These are among the same workloads IBM is aiming for with POWER8, POWER9, and eventually POWER10, as reported by DancingDinosaur just a couple of weeks ago.

oracle roadmap trajectory

Oracle 5-year SPARC trajectory (does not include newly announced S series).

According to Oracle, the latest additions to the SPARC platform are built on the new 4.27 GHz, 8-core/64-thread SPARC S7 microprocessor with what Oracle calls Software-in-Silicon features such as Silicon Secured Memory and Data Analytics Accelerators, which enable organizations to run applications of all sizes on the SPARC platform at commodity price points. All existing commercial and custom applications will also run on the new SPARC enterprise cloud services and solutions unchanged while experiencing improvements in security, efficiency, and simplicity.

By comparison, the IBM POWER platform includes with the POWER8, which is delivered as a 12-core, 22nm processor. The POWER9, expected in 2017, will be delivered as 14nm processor with 24 cores and CAPI and NVlink accelerators, which ensure delivery of more performance with greater energy efficiency.  By 2018, the IBM roadmap shows POWER8/9 as a 10nm, maybe even a 7nm, processor, based on the existing micro-architecture. And an even beefier POWER10 is expected to arrive around 2020.

At the heart of the Oracle’s new scale-out, commodity-priced server, the S7. According to Oracle, the SPARC S7 delivers balanced compute performance with 8 cores per processor, integrated on-chip DDR4 memory interfaces, a PCIe controller, and coherency links. The cores in the SPARC S7 are optimized for running key enterprise software, including Java applications and database. The SPARC S7–based servers use very high levels of integration that increase bandwidth, reduce latencies, simplify board design, reduce the number of components, and increase reliability, according to Oracle. All this promises an increase in system efficiency with a corresponding improvement in the economics of deploying a scale-out infrastructure when compared to other vendor solutions.

Oracle’s SPARC S7 processor, based on Oracle enterprise class M7 servers, is optimized for horizontally scalable systems with all the key functionality included in the microprocessor chip. Its Software-in-Silicon capabilities, introduced with the SPARC M7 processor, are also available in the SPARC S7 processor to enable improved data protection, cryptographic acceleration, and analytics performance. These features include Security-in-Silicon, which provides Silicon Secured Memory and cryptographic acceleration, and Data Analytics Accelerator (DAX) units, which provide In-memory query acceleration and in-line decompression

SPARC S7 processor–based servers include single- and dual-processor systems that are complementary to the existing mid-range and high-end systems based on Oracle’s SPARC M7 processor. SPARC S7 processor–based servers include two rack-mountable models. The SPARC S7-2 server uses a compact 1U chassis, and the SPARC S7-2L server is implemented in a larger, more expandable 2U chassis. Uniformity of management interfaces and the adoption of standards also should help reduce administrative costs, while the chassis design provides density, efficiency, and economy as increasingly demanded by modern data centers. Published reports put the cost of the new Oracle systems at just above $11,000 with a single processor, 64GB of memory and two 600GB disk drives, and up to about $50,000 with two processors and a terabyte of memory.

DancingDinosaur doesn’t really have enough data to compare the new Oracle system with the new POWER8 and upcoming POWER9 systems. Neither Oracle nor IBM have provided sufficient details. Oracle doesn’t even offer a roadmap at this point, which might tell you something.

What we do know about the POWER machines is this: POWER9 promises a wealth of improvements in speeds and feeds. Although intended to serve the traditional Power Server market, it also is expanding its analytics capabilities and is being optimized for new deployment models like hyperscale, cloud, and technical computing through scale-out deployment. Available for either clustered or multiple formats, it will feature a shorter pipeline, improved branch execution, and low latency on the die cache as well as PCI gen 4.

According to IBM, you can expect a 3x bandwidth improvement with POWER9 over POWER8 and a 33% speed increase. POWER9 also will continue to speed hardware acceleration and support next gen NVlink, improved coherency, enhance CAPI, and introduce a 25 GPS high speed link. Although the 2-socket chip will remain, IBM suggests larger socket counts are coming. It will need that to compete with Intel.

At least IBM showed its POWER roadmap. There is no comparable information from Oracle. At best, DancingDinosaur was able to dig up the following sketchy details for 2017-2019: Next Gen Core, 2017 Software-in-Silicon V1, Scale Out fully integrated Software-in-Silicon V1 or 2; 2018- 2019 Core Enhancements, Increased Cache, Increased Bandwidth, Software-in-Silicon V3.

Both Oracle and IBM have made it clear neither really wants to compete in the low cost, scale out server market. However, as both companies’ large clients turn to scale out, hyperscale Intel-based systems they have no choice but to follow the money. With the OpenPOWER Foundation growing and driving innovation, mainly in the form of accelerators, IBM POWER may have an advantage driving a very competitive price/performance story against Intel. With the exception of Fujitsu as an ally of sorts, Oracle has no comparable ecosystem as far as DancingDinosaur can tell.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst and writer. Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing at and here.


IBM Builds Out POWER8 Systems

October 3, 2014

Just in time for IBM Enterprise 2014, which starts on Monday in Las Vegas, IBM announced some new Power8 systems and a slew of new capabilities. Much of this actually was first telegraphed earlier in September here, but now it is official. Expect the full unveiling at IBM Enterprise2014.

The new systems are the Power E870 and the Power E880. The E870 includes up to 80 POWER8 cores in 32-40 nodes and as much as 4TB of memory. The Power 880 will scale up to 128 POWER8 cores and promises even more in the next rev. It also sports up to 16TB of memory, again with more coming. This should be more than sufficient to perform analytics on significant workloads and deliver insights in real time. The E880 offers also enterprise storage pools to absorb varying shifts in workloads and handle up to 20 virtual machines per core.

Back in December, DancingDinosaur referred to the Power System 795 as a RISC mainframe.  It clearly has been superseded by the POWER8 E880 in terms for sheer performance although the E880 is architected primarily for data analytics. There has been no hint of a refresh of the Power 795, which hasn’t even gotten the Power7 + chip yet. Only two sessions at Enterprise2014 address the Power System 795. Hmmm.

The new POWER8 machines boast some impressive benchmarks as of Sept. 12, 2014: AP SD 2-tier, SPECjbb2013, SPECint_rate2006 and SPECfp_rate2006).  Specifically, IBM is boasting of the fastest performing core in the industry: 1.96x or better than the best Intel Xeon Ivy Bridge and 2.29x better than the best Oracle SPARC. In each test the new POWER8 machine ran less than 2/3 of the cores of the competing machine, 10 vs. 15 or 16 respectively.

In terms of value, IBM says the new POWER8 machines cost less than competing systems, delivering 1000 users per core, double its nearest competitor. When pressed by DancingDinosaur on its cost analysis, IBM experts explained they set up new Linux apps on an enterprise class POWER8 system and priced out a comparably configured system from HP based on its published prices. For the new POWER8 systems IBM was able to hold the same price point, which turned out to be 30% less expensive for comparable power given the chip’s increased performance. By factoring in the increase in POWER8 performance and the unchanged price IBM calculated it had the lowest cost for comparable performance. Recommend you run your actual numbers.

The recent announcement also included the first fruits of the OpenPower Foundation, an accelerator from NVIDIA.  The new GPU accelerator, integrated directly into the server, is aimed at larger users of big data analytics, especially those using NoSQL databases.  The accelerator is incorporated into a new server, the Power System S824L, which includes up to 24 POWER8 cores, 1 TB of memory and up to 2 NVIDIA K40 GPU accelerators.  It also includes a bare metal version of Ubuntu Linux. IBM reports it runs extracting patterns for a variety of analytics, big data, and technical computing workloads involving large amounts of data 8x faster.

Another new goodie, one based on OpenStack, is IBM Power Virtualization Center (PowerVC), billed as new advanced virtualization management that promises to simplify the creation and management of virtual machines on IBM Power Systems servers using PowerVM or PowerKVM hypervisors. By leveraging OpenStack, it should enable IBM Power System servers to integrate into a Software Defined Environment (SDE) and provide the necessary foundation required for the delivery of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) within the Cloud.

Finally, as part of the Power8 announcements, IBM unveiled Power Enterprise Pools, a slick capacity-on-demand technology also called Power Systems Pools.  It offers a highly resilient and flexible IT environment to support of large-scale server consolidation and meet demanding business applications requirements. Power Enterprise Pools allow for the aggregation of compute resources, including processors and memory, across a number of Power systems. Previously available for the Power 780 and 795, it is now available on large POWER8 machines.

Am off to IBM Enterprise2014 this weekend. Hope to see you there. When not in sessions look for me wherever the bloggers hang out (usually where there are ample power outlets to recharge laptops and smartphones). Also find me at the three evenings of live performances: 2 country rock groups, Delta Rae and The Wild Feathers and then, Rock of Ages. Check out all three here.

Alan Radding is DancingDinosaur. You can follow this blog and more on Twitter, @mainframeblog. Also, find me at

IBM vs. Oracle HP Itanium

June 24, 2011

It was mind boggling enough when Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in April 2009, ostensibly to create “the only company that can engineer an integrated system – applications to disk – where all the pieces fit and work together..,” as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison declared at that time. Huh, had he ever heard of IBM?

Since then, Oracle has done nothing with Sun or SPARC while IBM has been converting Sun customers to System z and Power platforms by the hundreds. So, what possibly could Oracle been thinking when it recently declared Intel’s Itanium chip dead before Intel or HP did other than to hand IBM another banquet of system conversions to feast on? It’s not like Oracle can offer new Sun/SPARC servers as a viable replacement for Itanium. To the contrary, Oracle reported Q4 hardware sales down 6% year-over-year.

Let the IBM feasting begin. The company has identified several thousand potential HP Itanium prospects and started rolling out its strategy to bring them over to System z, Power, or System x.

In truth, Itanium already wasn’t doing well before Oracle stuck a knife in it. As IBM interprets the IDC market data it extended its lead in the UNIX servers in Q4 2010 by capturing 53.9% revenue share of that segment, gaining 5.9 points of share over competitors and leading the second-place vendor, HP, by more than 30%. If you then consider the huge gains made by the System z in the high end server market following the introduction of the zEnterprise, IBM clearly dominates the high end server market over both HP and Oracle/Sun. The latest IDC server market report, May 2011, can be found here.

For the high end server market, the choices are clear: after two years under Oracle Sun/SPARC is going nowhere and, despite what Intel may still say, Itanium isn’t going anywhere either, especially after what Oracle just did to it and HP. The only platforms capable of running enterprise-class UNIX or Linux applications are IBM System z (z10, z196, zEnterprise/zBX) and IBM Power Systems with Power7. At some point Intel may rev up Xeon but that would be well into the future.

Of course, IBM also provides high end x86 systems, the eX5 platform that uses the Xeon processor. And if you need a more enterprise-capable version of x86, the zEnterprise will be sporting x blades running Linux before the end of the year and ultimately run Windows.

Meanwhile, IBM is ramping up a worldwide full court press to win nervous or disgruntled or frustrated Itanium customers to one or another IBM platform. To date, it has had its biggest success in terms of conversions to the Power platforms. In 2009, it reports migrating over 600 customers to Power, 85% of which came from Sun or HP.  Over the past four years, IBM has migrated over 2000 companies to Power, again most coming from Sun or HP.  Earlier this year IBM reported that 61 companies adopted the System z platform either for the first time or returning after a long absence and some came from HP systems. You will find case studies on several of those HP refugees here and here.

To facilitate the exodus from Itanium to an IBM platform, IBM is offering help and incentives. The Stop & Think program brings a variety of technical and financial assessments to help reduce data and application management costs by up to 30%. If the organization wants to shift from the Oracle database to DB2 it will save one-third the cost and be able to cut the number of FTEs needed to administer the database by over half. Similarly, the Breakfree program offers a three-year 50% TCA savings. Along the way, IBM will discount or bundle in Migration Factory to actually get you there.

IBM recently compared an HP Itanian Superdome 12 with 32 cores and the Oracle database with an IBM Power 770 with 16 cores and migration to DB2 via IBM Migration Factory with the Breakfree discount applied. The 3-year HP cost, including the usual Oracle discounting end up 50% more than the 3-year IBM Power/DB2/Breakfree deal. Then IBM’s financing group will work the numbers to smooth the transition costs over the three years.

Most of IBM’s migration customers go with the Power platform. For those that want the advantages of the System z or zEnterprise there likely will be some very good deals cropping up this summer with the widely expected introduction of lower cost business class z196 machines and, probably, deeply discounted hardware/software/maintenance System z Solution Edition bundles. Since those are usually reserved for new workloads, a migration customer should automatically qualify.

If you were an HP Itanium customer or a Sun/SPARC customer pondering your organization’s IT roadmap, what would you do?

Brick and mortar IBM commitment to System z

May 17, 2010

Do you worry about the future of the System z and mainframes in general? I did until I saw an IBM press release in April about opening a new 56,000 sq. ft., $30 million manufacturing facility in Poughkeepsie to produce the next generation of System z mainframes and high-end Power Systems servers. By the time that facility is obsolete and ready to be shuttered, I should be long gone.

With IBM making that kind of investment in bricks and mortar on behalf of the System z, the company clearly expects the z to hang around for many more years. I don’t know what the depreciation schedule is on a new high tech manufacturing facility, but it must be longer than the usual 3-5 years for IT investments, lots longer.

Yet, there has been surprisingly little comment in the press about the announcement. Instead, there continues the stream of mainframe-is-dead pieces. The most recent, reported by Joe Clabby for Pund-IT, recounted Gartner’s advice to abandon the z in favor of x86-based servers. But as Joe pointed out, Gartner had some conflicts of interest, leaving them as anything but an unbiased advisor when it comes to mainframe computing.

The latest generation of Intel and AMD multi-core x86-based processors has generated a flood of articles predicting that the x86 architecture will dominate enterprise computing going forward. Last week at EMC World, EMC CEO Joe Tucci repeatedly declared the x86 architecture the wave of the future and would be the processor EMC would base all its products on now and in the future. The x86 processor was the future not only for EMC but everyone, everywhere.

Tucci obviously hadn’t noticed what Apple is doing. In January Apple brought out its own CPU, from a chip manufacturer it had previously acquired, to power the iPOD and iPAD. Sorry Joe, given the number of those devices Apple is selling there will be a considerable chunk of the world that does sophisticated computing and communications (and video and audio…) without an x86 processor.

The x86 architecture clearly isn’t the only game in town. In addition to Apple’s A4, IBM revved its POWER chip architecture and introduced systems based on the new POWER7 chip. These AIX and Linux machines are putting up impressive benchmarks. Even Sun/Oracle may be bringing out a new SPARC chip. Although the company appears to be somewhat vague about that if it wants to stay in the large enterprise computing game it will have to come up with a new SPARC chip or IBM and HP will continue to pick off its customers and VARs.

And then there is the next generation System z, dubbed the Hybrid z in briefings earlier this year. It apparently will be based on a highly optimized POWER7 multi-core architecture too. The mainframe is not likely to cede any performance to the new x86 processors, whether from Intel or AMD.

As IBM stated in its new factory announcement, “The facility is designed to handle the next generation of systems and [deliver] the capacity and flexibility to manufacture future products. The first products for customers are expected to roll off the assembly line later this year.” Just in time for the hybrid System z.

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