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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Four Hundred--IBM Dresses Up The Power 750+ In A Linux-Only Tuxedo

Big Blue wants a much bigger piece of the $10 billion annual Linux server business, and it is rolling out a fatter version of its Power7+ server lineup in the PowerLinux line to chase big Java, database, and analytics workloads. The new machine, called the PowerLinux 7R4, is a Linux-only version of the four-socket Power 750+ server that was announced back in February along with a revamped entry Power7+ server line and an even fatter Power 760+ machine.
Like other PowerLinux machines, the new PowerLinux 7R4 is designed specifically to compete head-to-head with Intel Xeon E5 and E7 machines in the same performance class. And as such, IBM has priced them aggressively to take the whole price discussion off the table. This is great news when it comes to expanding the total addressable market, or TAM in marketeering speak, for the Power Systems line. But the fact remains that PowerLinux machines based on the same physical iron as the plain vanilla Power Systems machines carry a significant premium, particularly for memory and disk capacity added to the base systems.
As I have shown in the past--see the Related Stories section below--that gap is quite large. For instance, with the PowerLinux 7R2, which was based on the Power 730 chassis from 2012, the base machine was 28 percent cheaper when only allowed to run Linux, but on a machine configured with lots of disk and memory, the PowerLinux box was about one quarter of the price of the plain vanilla Power Systems machine set up to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6. The comparisons in this monster table were for two-socket machines configured with 256 GB of main memory and a full complement of six disk drives with 600 GB of capacity each. AIX Standard Edition 7.1 cost about the same as Linux, and IBM i Application server (the one without the database) basically doubled the cost of the machine compared to Power 730s running AIX or Linux. That means the gap between a PowerLinux box and an IBM i box, neither with databases, was nearly a factor of nine.
I have not had time to do a full price/performance comparison between the PowerLinux 7R4 and the Power 750+ yet, but Chuck Bryan, team leader for Linux for the Power Systems division, says that the deltas are about the same as with the earlier PowerLinux machines. And, Bryan adds, customers have not given IBM grief about the difference in price between plain vanilla Power Systems and the PowerLinux boxes.
Anything that makes the Power Systems business stronger makes the IBM i platform live longer, and that is an idea that all of us in the IBM i ecosystem have to get used to as a central tenet in the silver years of the platform. Few people have argued as much as I have that the OS/400, i5/OS, and IBM i platforms have to be positioned to compete aggressively and directly against any and all platform alternatives. But IBM can't do that and still afford to maintain its chip factory in New York and keep doing development on Power chips and the AIX and IBM i operating systems. Well, and not also buy back untold billions of dollars of its own shares from Wall Street. If IBM gave up that last habit, it could compete aggressively directly with Windows and Linux on X86 platforms and maybe even take some market share rather than just trying to manage the declines in the AIX and IBM i businesses.
Call me old school. I want my IT vendors to compete, not play it safe.
Like the Power 750+ server, the PowerLinux 7R4 comes in a 5U rack-mounted chassis and has two or four processor sockets. Those sockets are double-stuffed with two quad-core Power7+ processors which have half of their cores deactivated. These dual-core modules are not just useful in that they take Power7+ chips that have only half of their cores working properly and put them to good use. They also have twice as much cache memory per core and twice as many memory controllers per socket, which means the memory capacity on the Power 750+ and PowerLinux 7R4 can hit as high as 1 TB. The PowerLinux 7R4 can be equipped with Power7+ dual chip modules (or DCMs) running at 3.5 GHz or 4 GHz, for either 16 cores or 32 cores activated. All of the cores in the box come activated in a base PowerLinux machine, unlike with plain vanilla Power Systems machines.
The PowerVM Enterprise Edition hypervisor was bundled for free on the earlier PowerLinux boxes to give the Power-Linux-PowerVM combination price parity compared to a Xeon server running Linux and using the VMware ESXi hypervisor and vSphere extensions to dice and slice the capacity on the X86 machine. But now, IBM is pricing PowerVM separately, and at a lower price than VMware vSphere 5.1 Enterprise Edition to make up for the premium it charges for hardware.
The PowerLinux 7R4 server has six drive bays for either disk drives (there are 900 GB drives available now) or solid state drives, and has six PCI-Express 2.0 peripheral slots. And the PowerLinux 7R4 has two GX++ slots to link remote I/O drawers directly to the processor complex inside the system. If you use the PCI-Express 12X I/O drawers, you can put up to 1,302 disk drives for a maximum capacity of 1,171 TB of capacity using those 900 GB disks onto a quad-socket server.
IBM reckons that a PowerLinux 7R4 loaded up with PowerVM and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.4 costs $67,435 for a machine with 32 cores, 256 GB of main memory, and no disk drives. Of that price, $40,361 is for the base hardware plus a three-year warranty, $15,680 is for PowerVM Enterprise Edition (still about a quarter of the price on plain vanilla Power Systems machines), and $11,394 for the RHEL support and a license for an unlimited number of logical partitions for three years.
By comparison, a ProLiant DL560 Gen8 server from Hewlett-Packard using Intel's eight-core Xeon E5-4600 processors running at 2.7 GHz and having a total of eight cores and 256 GB in the box, costs $65,086. The hardware only costs $30,098, RHEL costs the same, and vSphere 5.1 costs $22,724. If you want to move to a fatter Xeon E7-4800 system, which has more memory scalability and can be extended to an eight-socket box if you want to do it, then you can go with the ProLiant DL580 G7 from HP. Tooled up with four sockets of the 10-core Xeon E7-4800 chips running at 2.4 GHz and the same 256 GB of memory plus vSphere and RHEL, this box costs $67,439.
After examining some SPECjbb2005 Java benchmark data, it looks like that PowerLinux 7R4 machine will do about 20 percent more work than the Intel iron above. Whether or not this is enough to entice customers to run Java workloads or databases that like threads and cache memory on a PowerLinux box, instead of a Xeon (or Opteron) machine, remains to be seen. But that is IBM's plan.
One interesting side effect of this pricing difference between vanilla Power Systems capacity and that for PowerLinux boxes might be customers buying two small machines rather than one big one to run either IBM i or AIX workloads alongside Linux workloads. If Linux machines are so much cheaper, customers might be able to afford more IBM i and AIX capacity for the same money by offloading Linux workloads to PowerLinux machines. It all depends on the nature of the workloads, their dependencies across operating systems, and the speed and cost of the network connectivity needed to link them together.
The PowerLinux 7R4 will be available on August 23. The machine supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.4 and higher or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP2 or higher.
Fatter PowerLinux boxes on the horizon
This is not the end of the line for PowerLinux boxes, by the way. Inannouncement letter 113-112 describing the PowerLinux 7R4 machine, IBM released the following statement of direction:
"IBM intends to deliver increased flexibility to clients to exploit the performance, reliability and scale of enterprise-class Power servers to reduce the cost of managing a Linux ecosystem. IBM plans to offer IT teams new, capacity on demand options to more affordably allocate and manage system resources being deployed exclusively to support Linux on Power applications and infrastructure."
The presentations given to business partners were a little more explicit about the plan, and came right out and said that IBM would be offering "dedicated Linux workload capacity" for the Power 770, Power 780, and Power 795 machines. Bryan was not specific about what that might mean, but I interpret that to mean that IBM will have something akin to the Integrated Facility for Linux for these bigger, badder Power Systems machines with cut-throat pricing for processing, memory, and storage to promote the sale of truly fat PowerLinux boxes. IBM could make Linux-only versions of these machines, or Linux-only logical partitions. We'll see.
Whatever IBM does, it had better make sure it has locked down the microcode to keep AIX and IBM i from running on the Linux-only engines.

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