Five years. That is how much time has passed since we have seen an affordable server processor that could keep up with or even beat Intel's best Xeons. These days no less than 95% of the server CPUs shipped are Intel Xeons. A few years ago, it looked like ARM servers were going to shake up the market this year, but to cut a long story short, it looks like the IBM POWER8 chip is probably the only viable alternative for the time being.

That was also noticeable in our Xeon E7 review, which was much more popular than we ever hoped. One of the reasons was the inclusion of a few IBM POWER8 benchmarks. We admit that the article was however incomplete: the POWER8 development machine we tested was a virtual machine with only 1 core, 8 threads and 2 GB of RAM, which is not enough to do any thorough server testing.

After seeing the reader interest in POWER8 in that previous article, we decided to investigate the matter further. To that end we met with Franz Bourlet, an enthusiastic technical sales engineer at IBM and he made sure we got access to an IBM S822L server. Thanks to Franz and the good people of Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions, Arrow was able to lend us an IBM S822L server for our testing.

A Real Alternative?

Some of you may argue that the POWER based servers have been around for years now. But the slide below illustrates what we typically associated IBM's POWER range with:

Proudly, the IBM sales team states that you can save 1.5 million dollars after you have paid them 2 million dollars for your high-end 780 system. There is definitely a market for such hugely expensive and robust server systems as high end RISC machines are good for about 50,000 clients. But frankly for most of us, those systems are nothing more than an expensive curiosity.

Availability can be handled by software and most of us are looking/forced to reduce our capital expenses rather than increase them. We want fast, "reliable enough" servers at low costs that are easy to service. And that is exactly the reason why the single and dual sockets Xeon servers have been so popular the past decade. Can an IBM POWER server be a real alternative to the typical Xeon E5 server? The short but vague answer: a lot has changed in the past years and months. So yes, maybe.

Challenging the Xeon
POST A COMMENT

146 Comments

View All Comments

  • LemmingOverlord - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    Mate... Bite your tongue! Johan is THE man when it comes to Datacenter-class hardware. Obviously he doesn't get the same exposure as teh personal technology guys, but he is definitely one of the best reviewers out there (inside and outside AT). Reply
  • joegee - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    He's been doing class A work since Ace's Hardware (maybe before, I found him on Ace's though.) He is a cut above the rest. Reply
  • nismotigerwvu - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    Johan,

    I think you had a typo on the first sentence of the 3rd paragraph on page 1.

    "After seeing the reader interestin POWER8 in that previous article..."

    Nice read overall and if I hadn't just had my morning cup of coffee I would have missed it too.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    Good catch. Thanks! Reply
  • Essence_of_War - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    That performance per watt, it is REALLY hard to keep up with the Xeons there! Reply
  • III-V - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    IBM's L1 data cache has a 3-cycle access time, and is twice as large (64KB) as Intel's, and I think I remember it accounting for something like half the power consumption of the core. Reply
  • Essence_of_War - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    Whoa, neat bit of trivia! Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Saturday, November 07, 2015 - link

    Interesting. Got a link/doc to back that up? I have not found such detailed architectural info. Reply
  • Henriok - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    Very nice to see tests of non-x86 hardware. It's interesting too se a test of the S822L when IBM just launched two even more price competitive machines, designed and built by Wistron and Tyan, as pure OpenPOWER machines: the S812LC and S822LC. These can't run AIX, and are substantially cheaper than the IBM designed machines. They might lack some features, but they would probably fit nicely in this test. And they are sporting the single chip 12 core version of the POWER8 processor (with cores disabled). Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    "The server is powered by two redundant high quality Emerson 1400W PSUs."

    The sticker on the PSU is only 80+ (no color). Unless the hotswap support comes with a substantial penalty (if so why); this design looks to be well behind the state of the art. With data centers often being power/hvac limited these days, using a relatively low efficiency PSU in an otherwise very high end system seems bizarre to me.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now