IBM Power E880
IBM Power E880

IBM Power Systems has announced a number of new servers aimed at hybrid cloud, big data and analytics. Last week IBM announced two and four socket POWER8 appliances aimed at the SAP HANA market.

This latest announcements made at IBM Edge 2015, currently taking place in Las Vegas, sees the announcement of the Power E850.

This is a POWER8 4-socket appliance supporting up to 4 TB of memory. Each POWER8 chip has 12 cores but the faster you run them, the less cores you will have. 3.02GHz = 48 cores, 3.35GHz = 40 cores and 3.72GHz = 32 cores.

Power stacking

A second announcement is the launch of the Power Systems E880. Like the E850, this is a four-socket box but is designed to be run at a higher speed and deliver more cores. 4.0GHz = 48 cores while 4.35GHz = 32 cores. This raises a question as to whether the cores vs speed issue is one of heat or just a decision to target the appliances at very different markets.

It is not cores, however, that makes the E880 an interesting prospect. IBM has designed the E880 to be a stackable solution. Up to four can be connected together to create a larger system with as many as 192 cores (at 4.02GHz) and 16TB of memory.

The launch materials make it clear that IBM is targeting this box at heavy users of its in-memory database IBM DB2 with BLU Acceleration. It claims that even when stacked, the E880 delivers a linear scalability of workloads something that IBM says cannot be achieved by other processor manufacturers.

IBM will also be looking to migrate many of its POWER7 customers to the E880 with promises that the E880 delivers almost 40% more capacity that the equivalent generation Power 795 server.

IBM Power also targeting Intel in the 1 and 2 socket Linux market

While the E850 and E880 are likely to get most of the attention, they are not the  only announcements around Power. IBM has announced new Linux capability with the S812L, S822L and S824L servers. These are explicitly being targeted at the x86 Linux market and are intended to compete head-on with Intel’s latest Xeon E7 v3 Haswell servers. After waiting for its partners to deliver the most recent updates of their Linux servers, IBM is now offering customers Ubuntu, SUSE and RedHat on those severs.

Competing with Intel won’t be a simple matter. Last week at the launch of the Intel Xeon E7 v3 Haswell processors, Intel launch partners including Lenovo, who bought IBM System x, claimed a number of world records. IBM will need to respond quickly to those announcements and show that it is able to compete on benchmarks and cost as well as its claims of more cores per socket and memory.

Power driving into the cloud with SoftLayer

Earlier this year at IBM InterConnect it was announced that IBM SoftLayer would be deploying barebones POWER8-based servers in its cloud data centres. That is currently being ramped up and expected to go GA on 29th June.

IBM has also announced the availability of Chef on Linux of Power. This means that companies using Chef to orchestrate their environments can now include Power Systems as part of their IT automation and configuration management targets. The container solution, Docker has also been talked about by IBM over the last few months. It has now announced Ubuntu 15.04 support will deliver Docker on Power.

IBM Power E870 sets new 8-socket SAP record but Intel claims it back

As part of this set of announcements, IBM has claimed that the E870 8-socket server has set a  new industry benchmark running SAP. It outperformed a 120c Intel Xeon E7 v2 system with 120 cores by 61% and delivered almost twice the performance of an Oracle T5 SPARC system with 128 cores.

However, last week Intel hit back at the Intel Xeon E7 v3 Haswell launch. It claimed it was able to deliver an 85% lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than the IBM Power E870 8-socket server saying:

“85 percent lower total cost of ownership claim based on estimated SPECint*_rate_base2006 performance of 8-socket server using Intel® Xeon® processor E7-8890 v3 scoring 4980 priced at an estimated street price of $144,626 to 8-socket IBM Power E870 scoring 4830 priced at public list price of $1,592,788.”

Whichever vendor is correct, for customers this is good news. IBM is aggressively targeting the 1, 2, 4 and 8-socket server market and going toe to toe with Intel on benchmarks and pricing.


  1. Hey Intel, its interesting that your benchmark results rely on being able to claim “Estimated Street Price” (which you can assume most customers will pay) for your own systems, but use “Public List Price” (which no one will pay) for IBM? I am sure if you’d asked a reseller they would have told you the typical discounting for IBM Power Systems 🙂

  2. Good points Vince. Do not forget the Intel result is absent a hypervisor like VMware whereas the Power E870 has PowerVM. I’m guessing it was just a oversight by Intel. I also could not find the 144 core (8s x 18c) entry with 4980 SPECint_rate2006 result. The Intel result delivers 34.58 SPECint_rate2006 results per core compared to 60.38 SPECint_rate2006 results per core.

    That 8 socket Intel will have 192 DIMMs on 8 memory controllers; 4 channels per MC. If using memory mirroring they lose 1/2 the capacity. That is 12 DIMMs per controller or 3 DIMMs per channel – this is about capacity than performance. Running in Lockstep mode for Haswell EP is 68 GB/s per socket, not sure what the Haswell EX is but I’m guessing not much higher. Compare that to the 8 socket E870 with 64 DIMMs across 16 Memory Controllers. Performance on each Power8 socket is 230GB/s. Each MC has 4 channels, each connected to 1 DIMM. This provides max performance, max capacity and max reliability.

    RAS features on most 8s Intel servers are significantly deficient to Power8 E870
    1) SDDC, ECC, redundant fans and power supply
    2) Intra-socket memory mirroring, MCA, DDDC

    The Power8 E870 RAS features work with ALL supported OSes unlike with Intel where each OS may or may not support a given feature.

    Now, look at the RAS features of the 8 socket (10 core per socket) E870 vs the Intel features listed above.
    1) The usual, redundant & hot swap power supplies & fans
    2) Hot swap PCIe adapters & disk drives
    3) Memory Chipkill & bit steering (handles up to 4 events)
    4) 128 byte cache line vs 64 byte in Intel
    5) Hardened “Stacked” latches for Soft errors
    6) Special Uncorrectable error handling for solid faults
    7) CRC protection with recalibration & retry on error
    8) Spare data lane can be dynamically substituted for a failed one
    9) Memory buffer can retry internal soft errors
    10) L4 cache which Intel doesn’t have uses DEC/SEC ECC Code
    11) Redundant I/O Controllers w/ Alternate PCIe Hub/Switch Redundancy
    12) Redundant Power Regulators
    13) Redundant Clocks with dynamic failover
    14) Redundant service processors with dynamic failover
    15) Processor Instruction Retry
    16) Alternative Processor Recovery, Dynamic Proc Deallocation & Sparing
    17) First Failure Data Capture
    18) Each DIMM: 10 x8 DRAMS, 8 for Data, 1 for ECC, 1 for spare
    19) Memory Page deallocation
    20) Memory buffer replay
    21) Tens of Thousands of Fault Isolation Registers and Error Checkers
    22) Concurrent installation of firmware
    23) Live concurrent servicing of I/O
    24) Increase frequency on ALL cores dynamically

    Do I need to list more? Customers can choose Intel if they wish to. But for Intel to state or claim they are either comparable or in anyway better is a farce.


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