Sundry Summer Announcements for the System i5
July 17, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If I had to guess, I would say that IBM was originally planning on making announcements for its Power5+ server lines, the System i and the System p, on July 11. But then Sun Microsystems jumped in with its “Galaxy” Opteron server announcements, and Big Blue apparently thought it would be better to push its System p5 announcements out two weeks. However, some brief System i5 announcements still were made on July 11.
These included, of course, the new System i5 Solution Edition for JDE EnterpriseOne, a lower-cost version of the i5 520 with full-on performance and designed to compete with Wintel and Lopterux (hey, you come up with a better nickname in under a second) boxes on the system price level. (You can read all about that announcement in last week’s edition of Four Hundred Stuff, and see a price/performance comparison I ginned up elsewhere in this week’s edition of The Four Hundred.)
IBM made a few other announcements that OS/400 shops should be aware of, but it did not roll out any new Power5+ servers in the i5 line. No one was expecting Big Blue to make such announcements, but the company is expected to broaden the Power5+ machines in the System p line with new entry boxes running AIX or Linux that IBM needs to better compete with Opteron boxes from the likes of Sun and Hewlett-Packard and to keep the pressure on Intel‘s dual-core “Montecito” Itanium processors, which are launched tomorrow. It would be great to see a line of low-cost, powerful, i5/OS machines that goes head-to-head with Windows, Unix, and Linux platforms on price/performance as well as initial system configuration price. So far, IBM seems basically content with the System i5 line that it has.
That does not mean IBM doesn’t need to make changes in the i5 line, though. And so, on July 11, it did make a few.
New i5 595 Processor and Memory Features
One change, which doesn’t have a big effect on the base, is that IBM has moved to a new generation of 1.9 GHz Power5 (not Power5+) processors in the i5 595. IBM says that customers “should see no notable difference in the performance or reliability” between the older 1.9 GHz Power5 complexes for the i5 595 and the new ones. Which begs the question: Why bother, then? A few months back, as I reported in The Unix Guardian, the engineering change has to do with 16 GB large-page virtual memory support, which is being added to the Power5+ chips and which has been backcast into the Power5 processors for the p5 595 machines. Presumably, this has also been done for the System i5 595s. With the p5 595 boards, IBM also cut prices on the 16-core 1.9 GHz multichip module (MCM) units by almost half, to $69,000 (down from $129,000). IBM also slashed the price of 1.65 GHz MCMs with 16 cores on them to $32,000. (That does not have any cores activated, of course. That is just the cost of the MCM.) Because System i5 products are bundled with hardware and software, it is hard to say if IBM also cut prices as it moved to the new MCMs. But, if you do the homework, you can figure out that IBM has indeed cut prices on the i5 595.
For instance, the base i5 595 configured with Standard Edition (with no memory or peripherals) used to cost $775,000 with eight 1.9 GHz processor cores activated; now it costs $715,000, a reduction of $60,000. The Enterprise Edition version of this machine used to cost $1,555,000, but now it costs $1,495,000, also down by $60,000. As you add processor books to the i5 595, the price reduction scales linearly.
Similarly, back in May, the AIX versions of the 595 boxes got new DDR2 main memory cards, and now the i5 has them, too. These new cards use capacity on demand features to upgrade memory capacity; you don’t swap less capacious cards out and put in fatter ones. This means that IBM can rigidly control the price of memory on its machines. As companies add memory, they no longer unplug less capacious cards and put them on the market. They just turn memory that is always in their machines on. This is also why IBM has to charge so much money for an “empty” card. Customers are, in effect, prepaying for memory they may never use. A DDR2 main memory card that scales to 4 GB costs $1,771; a card that scales to 8 GB costs $3,543; a card that scales to 16 GB costs $31,196; and a card that scales to 32 GB costs $107,232. To activate the memory on these cards costs $1,769 per GB. On the largest card, the full memory complement would cost $163,840, or about $5,120 per GB. By the way, the System p5 guys get main memory for about 40 percent less. So much for i5-p5 product parity on pricing, eh? Oh, and IBM is requiring that you activate at least half of the memory on these new DDR2 memory cards for the i5 595, and memory activations are tied to the system, not the card. So if you buy memory capacity and then try to resell it, what you can sell is an empty card (or rather, a card with memory chips that no one can get to without repaying). Nice, huh? More like profit on demand, I think. Yeah, I am annoyed by this, and I think customers will be, too.
Tweaked CBU Configurations
IBM has also released two new versions of its i5 Capacity BackUp (CBU) disaster recovery machines. With the CBU approach, you buy a production system and a CBU box that has i5/OS on it and minimal processing capacity activated. When a disaster strikes, you roll over to the CBU box, which can run full tilt boogie supporting your workloads. When you get your production machine back, the CBU goes back into dormant mode, just doing enough to keep in synch through high availability software with the production box. The CBU approach means you do not have to pay full price to keep a hot swap box running remotely, but doing no useful work. The i5 570 CBU now has two processors permanently activated, with one i5/OS processor entitlement and one Enterprise Enablement feature for supporting 5250 workloads; it has 14 processors waiting in standby, which can be activated if the production machine is hit by a disaster. The i5 595 variant of the CBU now has four processors activated, and you can use them to support any workload, not just HA software. This machine has four cores activated for i5/OS with full 5250 capabilities, with 28 cores in standby.
Big Blue put out a statement of direction that said it would be expanding the CBU offerings in the future beyond the enhanced 570 and 595 CBUs it announced last week. The company did not elaborate further. But it seems reasonable that a 520 and 550 CBU are in the works.
New System Console
One of the interesting new features that IBM is rolling out is a thin system console that can be used to manage i5 machines. The new 9944 Model 100 thin console for System i is also intended to obviate the need to have a twinax-attached terminal to the machine to act as a system console.
The thin system console can be used to manage i5/OS-based machines with only one partition (meaning, they have a single system image and a single instance of i5/OS running on them), as well as for machines that use the version of the Virtualization Engine hypervisor that IBM created to allow such machines to add a couple of Linux partitions without the need to invest a few thousand dollars in the Hardware Management Console. These Linux partitions cannot have dedicated I/O if they are deployed by the system console (but Linux partitions under the control of the HMC can, of course). Having to invest in the HMC was bad enough for a lot of customers, but having to cope with using the HMC’s microcode to manage their partitions, which is an alien experience for a lot of customers, undercut the whole “ease of use philosophy” of the System i. It was a bad approach for the SMB market. The new thin system console is probably going to make it all that much easier to sell i5 520s to newbie i5/OS customers, and will probably make existing customers happier, too.
The thin system console is actually manufactured for IBM by Neoware, and it plugs into the HMC port on i5 machines. It requires i5/OS V5R3 or V5R4, and can be used on i5 520 and i5 550 machines with a single i5/OS partition. The thin console has to be at the firmware level SF240 to work with the System i5 machines, and it supports 80-column and 132-column green-screen formats. The console cannot support a graphical user interface, so you cannot use the iSeries Navigator portion of Operations Console on it. IBM is recommending that this console only be used by system administrators, but it is a full-fledged 5250 terminal, and as such, can be used to run i5/OS applications. The thin system console costs $699, with a keyboard costing $83. The new console will be available on August 11. You have to buy your own monitor for it.
PHP Is Finally Native–Mostly, Kinda, Sorta
IBM also announced last week the pricing and availability date for the integrated PHP engine and development tools that it has been working to bring to the i5/OS platform since last year in conjunction with Zend Technologies. (See PHP Will Soon Be Native on the System i5 and the related links at the bottom of that story for the full PHP on the iSeries saga.)
As promised, IBM and Zend have worked out a deal to provide the Zend Core runtime environment for PHP applications for free on the i5/OS platform and integrated into the unique features of the i5/OS operating system and its DB2/400 relational database. Specifically, this means Zend Core has native access to DB2/400 as well as to data queues and data areas inside i5/OS; the software also has bridges that link PHP applications to RPG and COBOL applications and a means of linking to DB2/400 databases and talking to the Apache variant of the Web server deployed on the System i5 server. The code for linking PHP to RPG and COBOL applications was what pushed the expected delivery of Zend Core for i5/OS to its initially expected June launch, and getting that work done is probably what pushed the deliver date to July 28.
In any event, in less than two weeks, you will be able to order Zend Core for i5/OS, which has product number 5639-ZC1. If you order this from IBM, you get it for free. This license from IBM has the rights to the software, software updates for three years (including major and minor updates and bug and security fixes) and three years of standard support (which is offered through the Zend Web site and includes unlimited incidents). You can, if you want to goose your support for Zend Core, buy gold- or platinum-level support. Gold support, which covers normal business hours and includes human beings, costs $1,000 per year on a machine with one or two processor cores activated, and $2,000 for a machine with three or four cores activated. Platinum support, which offers 24×7 access to Zend technical resources and people, costs $2,500 per year on a machine with one or two cores and $5,000 on a machine with three or four cores activated. Presumably, on bigger i5 boxes, the price continues to scale linearly. (The product number for support for Zend Core for i5/OS is 5771-ZC1.)
You can create your PHP applications in a normal text editor if you want, or you can use the Zend Studio Professional for i5/OS tool, which is an integrated development environment that runs on Windows, Linux, or MacOS desktops. (It does not run inside WebSphere Development Studio Client.) Zend Studio Pro, which has the IBM product number 5639-ZS1, is available for free, just like the PHP runtime environment is, and includes the same basic level of Web support. However, you can upgrade to Gold support for $1,000 per server or to Platinum for $2,000 per server, if you need human interaction and faster response. (The product number for support is 5771-ZS1.)
These Zend products are supported on first-generation iSeries machines (270, 820, 830, and 840), second-generation iSeries boxes (800, 810, 825, 870, and 890), eServer i5 machines (520, 550, 570, and 595), and System i5 boxes (520, 550, 570, and 595). You have to be running i5/OS V5R4 with PASE, Portable Utilities for i5/OS, QShell, OpenSSH, OpenSST, Zlib, CCA Cryptographic Service Provider, and Digital Certificate Manager. This would seem to imply that the PHP support is not quite as “native” as we were lead to believe, since it is running in PASE. But, at least it is not required to run in an AIX partition. IBM was unclear about under what conditions these two Zend Products were free, so I think we can all assume that if you have any one of those machines mentioned above, you can order it for free from Big Blue. And if that is not the case, we will all raise a raucous until it becomes true. (All IBM said is that it was free if ordered from IBM. It did not say it had to be on a new machine.)
IBM and Zend plan to put other PHP add-ons to market, tailored for the i5/OS platform, later this year.