Pandora’s Box: A Rumored Entry Power Server
July 24, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
According to sources familiar with IBM‘s plans, the company is working on a new entry-level server based on the Power5+ platform. Code-named “Pandora’s Box,” this server will, if the rumors are true and if it ever comes to market, have some of the features and capabilities that many of us in the OS/400 community have been yearning to see for IBM’s Power machines to better compete with Wintel platforms, which rule the small and medium business market, and Lintel boxes, which might if Linux catches on as Unix and Windows did in their turn.
There were a lot of conditional verbs in those two sentences above, I realize. And I wish I could tell you more about Pandora’s Box than the limited amount of information I have been able to glean. And while in the Greek mythology, Pandora, the tragic figure, is part of the punishment that Zeus meted out to the Titan Prometheus and the humans he loved so well for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to people, there does not appear to be any relationship between the development of the Pandora’s Box Power5+ server and “Project Prometheus,” the super-secret organization I told you about a few weeks ago that is trying to come up with ways of promoting the i5/OS platform in ways that are better than what many of us feel IBM itself has done. (For more on Project Prometheus, see this story.) Having said that, such a machine as the one I have heard about might be just the trick.
If you want to have some fun, and catch up on some seventh grade history or 10th grade literature, read the Wikipedia entry on Pandora. I will summarize briefly in case you don’t have time. After Prometheus is caught stealing fire and is chained to a rock to have his liver eaten daily by an eagle, the gods create Pandora as a punishment for the Titans and, in turn, humans. She gets all the best attributes of the gods–beauty, cunning, charm, among other things. And as her dowry, she was given a jar–not a box–and she was told not to open the jar. Eventually, of course, she does, and out comes plague, sorrow, poverty, greed, and despair. But, she manages to close the jar, keeping foreknowledge trapped inside. So evil comes into the world, but according to Greek mythology, we cannot tell the future, so we can, at times, be happy. (In some versions of the story, the Greek word “elpis” is translated as hope, and eventually she comes back to the jar and releases hope into the world. I like the latter interpretation of the myth, but I suspect the former one is what the Greeks were actually talking about.)
There have been so many Pandora’s Boxes in the computer business–machines that seem as much a punishment as a gift from the vendors–that it would not be surprising to me that they all had that code name, including the original “Silverlake” AS/400s from 1988. Plenty of people were very, very unhappy about that announcement, which made a System/36 look like a System/38, and thereby alienated IBM’s largest base of midrange customers–who stayed out of the OS/400 product line for a decade or more.
With this current iteration of server called “Pandora’s Box” and quite possibly not bearing any of the current server product names when it comes to market, IBM is trying to put the poverty, grief, strife, and misery back into the jar, so to speak. According to some sources, this Pandora’s Box, which is similar in concept to the current p5 510 server and comes in a rack-mounted, 1U form factor (with a possible tower version), according to some sources, aims to support any and every important protocol, operating system, database, development language, and so forth. It is the fully integrated IBM server, and, if these sources are correct, even if it is based heavily on OS/400 and i5/OS technology and runs on the i5/p5 platform, it will not be called an i5 or p5. The idea is to bring it out at a low price, too, apparently.
I have a feeling that the talk about Pandora’s Box is a lot bigger than what IBM will deliver, and my hunch is that this machine will never see the light of day because of infighting between the various IBM server divisions. If you make a Power platform, then you can bet that System i and System p will want their brands on it, and you can also bet that the System x people will want to create a Lintel or Wintel version (or both). So the differentiation gets lost. As it has with the iSeries and System i5. The Virtualization Engine hypervisor in the current System i is a glorified version of the AS/400 microcode that allowed multiple OS/400 images to run on a box seven years ago; the integrated operating system support was championed by the iSeries, but in the System i5 line it is now technically indistinguishable from the System p5, which supports i5/OS, AIX, and Linux in logical partitions. The only difference between the two platforms is how many i5/OS or AIX instances you can install on a machine, their prices, and their names.
Whatever Pandora’s Box is, what it is not is an announced product. And that means there is still time to go back to the drawing board and create a true i5/OS machine that is low-cost, full-featured, and aimed at attacking Wintel machines feature for feature, dollar for dollar. IBM could do all of the things it wants to do with Pandora’s Box, but this is clearly a System i machine, and should be sold as one and the System i division should get the revenue stream.
The iDeal iSeries, Parts 1 to 5, from 2002. Yeah, 2002. And I was right then about how to price and package the iSeries, as I am right now when I talk about the System i.
iMaker, iMaker, make me an i!, AngusTheiTChap blog
Project Prometheus: Playing with Fire