% fortune -ae paul murphy

Blackbox, SWaP, and the z10

My z10 pricing comment, last Thursday, drew this response from brlanwarner:

So... we're looking at the highest energy costs ever, and you're saying utilization isn't a concern?

Have you actually talked to anyone who has consolidated their datacenter? What you've missed, flat out and catastrophically, is facility costs. By not taking those into account, you're assuming they're equal between the options. There's not a snowball's chance in your theoretical datacenter that you can fit 4,950 x86 boxes (plus the network infrastructure - which is not free) in the same space, with the same power, and the same cooling.

Might want to take those into consideration next time - particularly the capital costs involved in merely adding the differential in floorspace, not to mention the racks of switches and routers. It changes your equation significantly.

In response, I suggested he look at Sun's project blackbox - but to help things along I thought I might do it for all of us.

Sun's project blackbox puts everything you need to run up to 280 rack servers in a 20 foot (160 square feet) shipping container. Drop it in the parking lot, hook up external power and networking, and you've a data center manageable as one integrated unit.

The basic model contains eight, 40RU, racks: seven for payload and one for network and internal control equipment - it can handle everything from earthquakes to heat waves, including, if external wiring is disconnected or set up using EMP fusing, a mid range EMP hit.

If you want a blackbox loaded with:

Sun will drop the thing ready to go in your parking lot for a bit under five million bucks.

Notice that's less than one fifth of what IBM wants for a 64 core z10 witho0ut networking or storage. Or, to put it another way, you could get five of these blackbox data centers for the price of a z10, and have enough change left to put up a building to house them.

Here's how the resources in that $5 million blackbox compare to the $26 million z10:

  z10 Blackbox
CPU cycles 282 PPC ghz 1,584 Opteron ghz
1,792 SPARC/CMT ghz
CPU threads 128 10,920
Memory 1,520GB 25,760GB
Disk storage None 514TB
Watts 18,200 96,800
Square feet 30 160

The Sun blackbox is five times bigger and uses about five times the total power -but bear in mind that the IBM figures don't include storage, networking, external cooling, power filtering, or aisle space.

The SWaP metric is defined as:

Space X Power Consumption


Since Sun's "Niagara" processors own every major benchmark anywhere near their weight class while IBM refuses to benchmark the z10, it's hard to find a valid performance comparison.

We do have some Power6 numbers -from the p570 and similar lines. For example,

# SAP-SD, clearly a high-end ERP benchmark with SAP and database. Sun T5120 Beats ultra-expensive 4-core IBM p570 4.7 GHz POWER6 by 7%. Oracle Database used on Sun's SAP-SD.

# SPECjAppServer, another application tier and database-tier benchmark. Good for high-end servers, clearly UltraSPARC T2 is in that class and much less expensive the Power6. UltraSPARC T2 used as Oracle Database server. Sun T5120 67% faster 4-core IBM p570 4.7GHz Power6

# SPECjbb, another application benchmark with lots of big servers. Sun T5220 9% faster than 4-core IBM p570 4.7GHz POWER6, 2.5x better power-performance & 5x better SWaP

# SPECint_rate2006: UltraSPARC T2 1.4GHz beats best 1-chip(2-core) IBM POWER6 4.7GHz by 29%

What these results mean is that if you make the most positive assumptions possible for the mainframe - zero storage space or power, and CPU parity with coolthreads - then Blackbox beats the z10 on SWaP by a factor of six times: (1792/(280 x 96))/(282/(40 x 19))

Account for the 320 Opteron compute cores and the 480TB in storage provided by the blackbox configuration by guessing at rough equivelents for IBM, and you'll get rough estimates giving Blackbox an estimated SWaP advantage in the 15 to 20 times range.

And that's only part of the bottom line - because both systems have single points of management, and comparable RAS features, the rest the bottom line starts with a $21 million capital cost saving on the purchase - before OS licensing, storage, or networking on the IBM side - and ends with the fact that, with blackbox, you don't need to build a physical data center: just put security posts and some gyproc around three spaces on the second floor of the parking garage and send in the electricians.

Paul Murphy wrote and published
The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.