More on the July 13 i5 Announcements
July 19, 2004 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Last week we told you about the major July 13 eServer i5 announcements, the arrival of the fully extended Model 570, and the lack of a Model 550. This week, I want to go through some of the other announcements that IBM made on that same day for the eServer i5 platform. You won’t find most of this information in the announcement letters.
IBM did put out a letter describing a tweak of the so-called Express configurations of the eServer i5 Model 520 servers. As I have previously described, these Express configurations include three different preconfigured systems with suggested retail prices that are supposed to give customers discounts ranging from 32 to 39 percent off the cost of acquiring all of the i5 Model 520 servers and added peripherals and software in a piecemeal fashion. The Express configurations are sold in lots of ten or 20 to resellers, and they ultimately determine the street price of the box. This is a good idea for leveling the playing field among resellers and boosting IBM’s sales volumes (at least initially), since resellers have to prebuy the machines.
The one problem with the Express configurations is that they assumed that customers wanted to just use a regular SCSI disk controller for their disk drives. However, many customers wanted to add a RAID 5 disk controller to the Express packages. So IBM took the Express configuration numbers 2 and 3 and added two more SCSI disk drives and a feature 5079 RAID disk controller to the box and tacked on another $5,700 to the price tags of these machines, creating Express numbers 4 and 5. IBM is not giving a discount on these features, by the way. That is what the disks and RAID controller would cost if you bought them new at list price from IBM and a reseller. You can guess what I think about that. The reseller definitely has wiggle room on those disks and RAID controller, and you should negotiate to get a discount on them. Either that, or buy the disks and RAID controller separately after buying an Express configuration number 2 or 3 with the discount it already has. If these three pieces of equipment list for $5,700, they can probably be bought for around $4,800 with only a bit of haggling. By the way, the RAID feature is actually implemented in a daughter card (feature 5709) that plugs right into the integrated SCSI controller on the Squadron motherboard. It does not take up a PCI-X slot. This card has 16 MB of write cache, and is also an optional feature on the eServer p5 Unix servers.
The two new Model 520 Express Editions will be available on June 23.
Just so you don’t have to go hunting around for the information: the Model 520 Express configuration 2 is a 500 CPW/30 CPW 5250 machine with 1 GB of main memory; two 35 GB, 15K disks; a 30 GB tape drive; a DVD ROM drive; a twinax controller; and a base set of software, including i5/OS V5R3, DB2/400, WebSphere Express, DB2 Query Manager, Query/400, iSeries Access, and WebSphere Development Studio; it sells for $14,500. The Model 520 Express configuration 3 is a 1000 CPW/60 CPW 5250 machine with 2 GB of main memory with the same peripherals and software; it costs $29,900.
IBM has also announced a new RAID 5 disk controller, feature 2780. This new controller is the same as the existing feature 2757 controller, which has 757 MB of write cache (which speeds up transaction processing performance), but feature 2780 adds 1 GB of read cache. IBM says that this new controller replaces a special RAM disk offering from a few years back that was used to boost the batch performance of iSeries machines. The feature 2780 controller is only being made available on the i5 Model 520 and 570 servers at this time, but sources at IBM say that if customers demand that IBM backcast it to the iSeries 8XX machines, IBM will consider doing it. IBM has not yet provided estimates of just how much the 1 GB of read cache can improve the performance of batch and other serial jobs running on OS/400 platforms. The feature 2780 controller will, however, sell for the same $7,200 as the feature 2757 card. (This is not the RAID card that IBM is adding into the Express configurations.)
ISERIES AND I5 PRICE CHANGES
As I told you IBM was contemplating doing, the company did indeed raise the prices on the activation of Power5 processors in the Model 520 and Model 570 servers to get those prices in line with the new eServer p5 machines. While the iSeries team has shifted the value of the OS/400 platform (and hence most of the cost) to OS/400 and the related software stack, the pSeries team has to live by hardware sales and basically said that they needed to charge more for a Power5 processor than the iSeries team had to charge. And so, in the name of being one big happy family, IBM raised the price on processor activations. However, to be fair, when IBM raised the price of a Model 570 processor core from $4,400 to $7,700, it also dropped the cost of OS/400 Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition by that much. While this is commendable, that means the cost of activating a processor core on the Model 570 for Linux just got considerably more expensive–about 47 percent more expensive, in fact. The iSeries team had the price correct, and the p5 team is making the wrong move here, since the iSeries pricing made a Power5 core running Linux a non-brainer choice against buying a whole new Lintel box.
It’s not all bad news, however. IBM also made some price changes in the i5 line (and some components can also be used in the iSeries line) to get peripheral prices in line with the p5 that pushed these prices down anywhere from 4 to 44 percent. As usual, I have built a table that details the price changes and gives a description of the features whose prices have changed. There are pretty substantial cuts in disk, memory, and various peripheral cards. On balance, the price of a configured i5 server running both OS/400 and Linux probably went down, even with the higher processor activation fees for Linux-based Power5 cores.
AIX AND LINUX SUPPORT
IBM also revealed a bit more on its AIX and Linux support for the eServer i5 platform. The full-blown AIX 5L 5.3 operating system, due to start shipping August 31 on the eServer p5 Squadron machines, will be supported on the eServer i5s. And, like the p5 machines, the i5 servers will also–surprise, surprise!–be able to support the older AIX 5L 5.2 Unix operating system. Generally, IBM only allows a new operating system release to run on new hardware: the appeal of the new hardware forces a software upgrade. IBM is not doing this with AIX 5.3, mainly because it cannot. There are so few applications that are certified to run on AIX 5.3 (which will be at least nine months late to market when it starts shipping) that IBM has no choice but to support AIX 5.2.
My sources at IBM say that AIX 5.2 will be supported just as it is now on the pSeries–partitions can only be as small as one processor core, and each partition needs dedicated LAN and I/O subsystems to communicate with the outside world. Only by adopting AIX 5.3 will customers get the virtual I/O and Ethernet support and micropartions (up to 10 partitions per processor core). The iSeries has had virtual I/O and LAN capability for years, and it is this feature that IBM is calling the Virtualization Engine as it rips AIX up off the Power server iron and throws what is in essence the iSeries microcode underneath it. Whether running AIX 5.2 or 5.3, there are some minor differences in the virtual storage features of the two machines, which means there has to be testing to make sure the code works well on the i5s.
As for Linux support, IBM nailed down the delivery dates for the Red Hat and Novell variants of commercially distributed Linux. Red Hat will begin shipping Enterprise Linux 3, Update 3, which supports the new i5 and p5 iron, starting September 30. Enterprise Linux 3 is based on a version of the Linux 2.4 kernel that Red Hat tweaked over a year ago to have many of the features of the then-future Linux 2.6 kernel. Novell’s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 will be generally available August 31 on all platforms (including the i5 and p5), and it is based on the Linux 2.6 kernel.