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The POWER9 System Roll-Out Continues

August 7, 2018

Today IBM is announcing two new POWER9-based enterprise systems: the E950 (9040-MR9) and the E980 (9080-M9S). The E980 is the follow-on to both the E870 and E880, and delivers 1.5X the performance. Rather than have two high-end machines, as was the case in POWER8 (and going back to POWER7 with the 770/780), those systems are collapsed into the E980. As for the E950, with its available cores and memory, it packs quite a punch for a 4-socket server, as you'll soon see.

These systems use different chips than those that run on the POWER9 scale-out servers that were announced in February. While the scale-out servers support direct-attached memory, these "scale-up" servers support buffered memory attachments with the POWER9 enterprise chip. This results in differences in memory bandwidth: up to 170GB/s peak bandwidth with the scale-out servers compared to 230 GB/s of peak bandwidth on the scale-up servers.

Some Quick Highlights:


  • GA on Aug. 17
  • 8, 10, 11 or 12-core processor options; they will run at speeds up to 3.8 GHz
  • 2-4 processors per system (up to 48 total cores)
  • Up to 4 TB of RAM per processor; up to 16 TB of DDR4 RAM on a 4-processor system.
  • 4U Server that fits in a 19-inch rack.
  • 10 PCIe Gen4 slots and 1 PCIe Gen3 slot that specifically supports the default network card that is used at the factory. These are full-height, half-length slots with blind swap cassettes, meaning you can hot swap your I/O cards.
  • 8 SFF 2.5 SAS bays for your SAS drives. (Note: Because storage adapters aren't built into the back plane, any storage adapters that run your SAS drives would take up a PCI slot. You have the choice of a single or dual back plane, but keep in mind that the later will take up 2 PCI slots.)
  • 4 NVMe flash drives; this is a great option for local boot of your VIO servers.
  • Three years, 24 x 7 warranty.
  • Supports AIX and Linux; no support for IBM i is planned at this time.


  • 1-2 node system available on Sept. 21; 3-4 node system available on Nov. 16. All MES upgrades from E870/ E870C/E880/E880C available on Nov. 16.
  • 8, 10, 11 or 12-core processor options; they will run at speeds up to 4.0 GHz.
  • 32, 40, 44 or 48 processor cores per node, meaning the 1-2 node system supports up to 96 cores and the 3-4 node system supports up to 192 cores.
  • Up to 16 TB of RAM per node; up to 64 TB of RAM per 4-node system.
  • Modular scalable system: 1-4 5U CECs + 2U control unit.
  • Up to 32 PCIe Gen4 slots on a 4 node system. Low-profile I/O cards, 8 per CEC.
  • Up to 16 PCIe I/O expansion drawers, 4 per CEC.
  • 4 NVMe flash drives per CEC.
  • 1 year 24 x 7 warranty.
  • Supports AIX, Linux and IBM i.

Note: The E980's 2U system control unit resides at the bottom of the nodes. With the E880, the control unit is the middle. Keep this change in mind as you determine the physical system placement in your rack, particularly if you plan to leave room for future systems growth.

As was the case with the systems that were announced earlier this year, both of the enterprise class systems come with PowerVM Enterprise Edition built in. (You can no longer select PowerVM Standard edition.) With the enterprise edition, you can utilize Live Partition Mobility (LPM) across your environment to quickly and easily move workloads from POWER7/POWER8 servers to POWER9 models. A free 60-day activation can be requested from IBM (Feature Code ELPM), so if your systems are currently running PowerVM standard edition, you still have a way to perform live migrations.

When running LPM between POWER9 systems, you can expect faster partition migrations due to on-chip encryption and compression. In IBM's migration testing, the before and after results were pretty startling: one test workload that ended up transferring 51 GB in 5 minutes to migrate the LPAR was pared down to only 1 GB of data and 15 seconds for the data transfer when encryption and compression were deployed. Obviously your mileage will vary based on individual workloads and LPAR characteristics.

Both systems support Capacity Upgrade on Demand (CUoD), meaning you can buy extra physical cores and memory and activate them as needed. CUoD takes a lot of the uncertainty out of system planning.

Keep an eye out for AIX 7.2 TL3 running on POWER9; it will now ship with SMT8 enabled instead of SMT4, so going forward you'll need to pay attention to how your workloads are running after migrations and upgrades. Expect to see sizable performance improvements over POWER7 and POWER8; I'll share some actual numbers once they come out.

If you're familiar with what was IBM PowerCare, it is now called the IBM Power to Cloud Reward Program. With the purchase of an enterprise system, you'll earn credits for services that can be redeemed for various on-site IBM Lab Services offerings.

Speaking of cloud, these systems come with cloud management console (CMC) entitlements for three years.

You'll also be able to install and use PowerVC 1.4.1.

Finally, note these levels of firmware, HMC, VIOS, AIX, IBM i and Linux versions that you'll need to be running:

  • Firmware level FW920.10 (available in third quarter)/FW920.20 (4Q).
  • HMC code level V9R1.920.
  • VIOS (3Q)/VIOS & 3.1.0 (4Q).
  • AIX 7.2 TL2.
  • AIX 7.2 TL1 (P8 compatibility mode).
  • AIX 7.1 TL4, TL5 (P8 compatibility mode).
  • AIX 6.1 TL9 (P7 compatibility mode).
  • IBM i 7.3 TR5.
  • IBM i 7.2 TR9.
  • Ubuntu 16.04.4 (P8 compatibility mode).
  • RedHat RHEL 7.5 LE (P8 compatibility mode.)
  • RedHat RHEL 7.6 LE (4Q).
  • SuSE SLES 11 SP4 (P8 compatibility mode).
  • SuSE SLES 12 SP3.
  • SuSE SLES 15.

As always, IBM Power Systems deliver on performance―not to mention scalability, reliability, serviceability, agility and flexibility. I look forward to getting my hands on these systems.

Posted August 7, 2018| Permalink