[Tech blog] IBM 7R2 Appliance and YellowDog Linux: High Performance Hardware With an Open Software Stack

In July, Fixstars announced the PowerLinux 7R2 YellowDog Appliance as a new open standard platform able to efficiently support basic infrastructure services, large transactional databases, BigData, and HPC workloads. IBM’s latest Power7 offerings are very exciting and with Fixstars’ offering, the high performance hardware is available with an open software stack just like the commodity servers it is replacing.

The 7R2 is a 2U, rack mountable server that features two 3.5GHz, 8-core Power7 processors. Each has four threading units meaning an impressive 64 Penguins are displayed on boot if you have CONFIG_LOGO enabled, not to mention the actual performance the processors are able to deliver. The default configuration features 32GB of memory but up to 256GB is available. With six bays for SAS storage, plenty of local fast storage is available and with six PCI Express slots (five 8x, one 4x) there is no shortage of expansion available for FiberChannel, Infiniband, or any other type of external connectivity you need.

IBM marketing materials claim that the PowerLinux 7R2 is capable of efficiently running thousands of tasks in parallel while achieving massive scale-out flexibility and exploiting extreme memory bandwidth. In practise this means using fewer servers for increased performance at lower costs (http://public.dhe.ibm.com/common/ssi/ecm/en/poc03088usen/POC03088USEN.PDF) and reducing the rate at which costs grow as IT capabilities expand.  (http://public.dhe.ibm.com/common/ssi/ecm/en/pol03112usen/POL03112USEN.PDF).

You may wonder how the 7R2 Appliance compares to conventional, Intel servers; the Power7 processor is quite similar to the Xeon E5 and E7 families with 256KB of L1 cache per core.  While the Intel processors share up to 20MB of L3 cache, the Power7 has a dedicated 4MB of cache per core for a total of 32MB. Comparing the 7R2 to other platforms, it fits into the same segment as the Dell PowerEdge R820 series which as of October 2012 are priced between $13,000 and $18,000 each depending on processor selection, with 32GB of memory and 2x146GB SAS drives. At $14,990 (or $19,990 with PowerVM Standard Edition) the 7R2 is competitively priced with high end x86 servers, ending the complaint that the Power architecture is “too expensive” for adoption.

Fixstars is including the new Yellow Dog Linux 7 with the 7R2 appliance and just like previous versions, it is based on the industry standard Enterprise Linux. Yellow Dog 7 features a few tweaks for better performance on Power that developers will love. The biggest improvement is the inclusion of the GCC 4.7 compiler suite, something that was universally requested from Fixstars’ other project teams. GCC 4.7 features auto-vectorization that we’ve documented here (http://ydl.net/ydl7/support/AutoVectorizationDocs.shtml).

PowerVM Standard Edition supports most any virtualization function needed while Enterprise Edition with awe inspiring features such as Active Memory Sharing and Live Partition Mobility is also available. Server consolidation is an obvious use for a machine like the 7R2 and we’ve built out 7R2s with 160 running virtual machines and performance of both database and web server workloads didn’t suffer, processor intensive workloads of course suffered from such a small slice of CPU time. In more realistic consolidation tests, we found that a 7R2 configured with 16 LPARs had the best overall performance compared to the same configuration with either 1, 4, or 64 LPARs.

The Phoronix Test Suite demonstrates the YellowDog 7R2 Appliance’s capabilities using a variety of CPU and I/O intensive benchmarks. The 7R2 (configured with 64GB of memory and four 146GB SAS drives in a single Logical Volume) has an impressive crafty score (http://openbenchmarking.org/test/pts/crafty) of 111.78, runs the Parallel BZIP test (http://openbenchmarking.org/test/pts/compress-pbzip2) in only 3.18 seconds and also scores 47929 in the PHPBench test (http://openbenchmarking.org/test/pts/phpbench). Overall the results are fairly similar to the high end Intel Xeon offerings, with the 7R2 being faster in some tests and the Xeon being faster in others.

Over the coming months, we’ll be posting more about the 7R2 and how it integrates into different environments with Virtualization and BigData.

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