System i Announcement Wrap Up
August 6, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
I don’t know about you, but I got the distinct impression that the split up of the System i division, the launching of the Power6-based System i 570, and the preview of the upcoming i5/OS V6R1 operating system was a bit hurried two weeks ago. Which is a bit odd for a set of announcements that I would have said were better timed for late 2006, not spread out from the summer of 2007 through maybe spring 2008. You can never be sure what is going on inside Big Blue, but I would guess that the timing of yet another quarter of System i revenue declines was the trigger for the changes we saw and for the jumping of the gun on the Power6 server announcement.
IBM did finally get its announcement letters out the door on July 31, giving us a look at the details of the new Power6-based system as well as some other features for the System i line, which remains a single brand even though it is split between the high-end products and the operating system in the Power Systems division and the low-end products in the Business Systems division. At the very least, I think IBM planned to make announcements on July 31 only after some of the larger i5/OS shops complained that the System p line was getting Power6 technology way ahead of the System i shops–and generally on better terms, too–and that once IBM decided to cut the System i division down the middle, it launched the new machine and the preview of V6R1 ahead of schedule to try to create some positive spin.
Which is fine with me. I just wish that IBM had figured out that it needs user pricing on entry machines and Power6 processors at the same time to compete against quad-core X64 servers–just as much as it needs Power6 processors and much more flexible software licensing at the high end to compete against big Unix boxes. And I wish the people who get products out the door would have pushed hard enough to get a complete line of Power6 systems–real ones, not just one rejiggered Power5+ box with a new CPU, SAS disks, and a few other new peripherals–to market to take the battle to Windows on the low-end and Unix on the high end. This complete system announcement should have happened in September or October 2006, to be timed to the market. IBM surely knows this. And considering that it rarely cops to its actual schedule publicly, we cannot tell how disappointed IBM might be with delays in Power6 systems and changes to the AIX and i5/OS operating systems that make use of these new processors.
You can review the initial Power6 server and V6R1 announcements as well as some follow-up analysis I did on workload partitions and price/performance as I was waiting for the announcement letters. (See the Related Stories section below for the links to those articles.) In this story, I wanted to go through a few finer points in the announcements that did not come out in my briefings with IBM.
Perhaps most significantly, IBM provided a lot of planning information concerning peripherals, controllers, and attachment schemes. The System i5 servers based on the Power5 and Power5+ processors (that’s models 520, 525, 550, 570, and 595) will be the last machines to support feature 5074 and feature 5079 I/O towers, which have been replaced by feature 5094 and feature 5294 towers. These latter models support PCI-X slots, rather than much slower PCI slots, as well as 15K RPM disk drives; they link to servers via HSL-1 and HSL-2 links. The i5 550, 570, and 595 Power5 and Power5+ servers will also be the last machines to support optical HSL adapters, which are slower than copper HSL cables and which have not been adopted widely by customers. Optical cables do, however, have the benefit of longer distance between the server and its peripherals.
Those Power5 and Power5+ System i5 machines will also be the last boxes to support 8.58 GB and 17.58 GB 10K RPM disk drives. IBM is recommending that customers use 15K RPM drives on the new Power6-based System i 570 machine, even though 35.16 GB 10K RPM drives are technically supported. These machines are also the last boxes to support PCI peripherals. PCI-X peripherals are the volume products across various server lines these days, and PCI Express peripherals are becoming less expensive and offer substantial performance benefits. So customers with disk controllers, LAN adapters, WAN adapters, and Fibre Channel adapters that plug into PCI slots have to start thinking about how they will move ahead. They won’t be moving these peripheral cards–which can represent a sizable percentage of residual value in a system–ahead to Power6 machines. IBM also warns customers that with newer Power6 machines, disk controllers with 757 MB write caches and supporting RAID 5 data protection will have to have mirrored write caches using the auxiliary write cache adapter cards, which IBM has been selling for a few years to avoid single points of failure in the iSeries and System i line. IBM already required this on its new 1.5 GB cache disk controller in February.
IBM is also phasing out the Integrated xSeries Server (IxS) co-processor for running Windows and Linux operating systems under the skins of the iSeries and System i servers as well as the Integrated xSeries Adapters for attaching certain System x servers running Windows or Linux to the shared storage inside iSeries and System i servers. IBM said in its announcement letters that the Power5 and Power5 machines would be the last boxes to support earlier IxS co-processors and IxA. The Power6 line, presumably to eventually be called the System i 6XX series, will support the latest IxS co-processors (features 4811, 4812, and 4813) as well as the latest IxA adapters (features 1519-001 and feature 1519-002). IBM is strongly recommending that customers who want to attach Windows or Linux boxes use the iSCSI features launched in May 2006, which allow any IBM System x Server or BladeCenter to use an i5/OS server as a data store.
IBM made a bunch of smaller announcements. Now, disk controllers with large caches can use the cheaper disk drives that Big Blue sells for supporting AIX and Linux partitions on the System i box. (See this story in this issue for more details on the new disk drive options in the System i line and the price differential IBM is charging for essentially the same disks depending on the operating system supported.) Specifically, the feature 0649 1.5 GB write cache RAID 5 controller (which plugs into feature 0595, 5095, 5092, and 5294 expansion units) and feature 0650, 0651, and 0654 controllers (which plug into the EXP24 enclosures IBM imported from the System x line earlier this year) can now be used with AIX or Linux partitions.
The 2.3 GHz Power5+ processor in the i5 595 server, which scales up to 64 cores, can now support OS/400 V5R3 as well as the i5/OS V5R4 that it supported at announcement last year. Apparently, there are some big RPG shops that want more computing power, but they do not want to move to the new operating system–which, truth be told, is not all that new. But, certifying a set of applications for a new operating system is a big, big pain in the neck, it is expensive, and it can take many months.
Customers with i5 550, 570, and 595 servers that are based on Power5 or Power5+ processors and that are equipped with i5/OS Enterprise Edition are now getting a copy of Zend Core for i5/OS (5639-ZC1) and MySQL Enterprise for i5/OS (5639-MYS) thrown into the mix, effective August 17. The Zend Core PHP engine, which runs in PASE, comes with standard support, and the MySQL database, which also runs in PASE for now, comes with silver support.
The System i line is also getting a RAID hot spare option, which is enabled in i5/OS. IBM was the first commercial server vendor to deploy RAID 5 data protection (back in 1992 with the 9336 disk arrays), and last year it added RAID 6 support, which provides two sets of RAID 5 parity data for a RAID group. With RAID hot sparing, a drive in the RAID array is designated as a hot spare, so in the event of a drive failure, the spare can be rebuilt with the missing data on the failed drive without having to take a drive out of the box and taking the system offline. This capability is offered on other server lines, too. IBM is still, given the mission-critical nature of the workloads on the System i line, strongly encouraging customers to mirror disks and controllers. The iSeries 800, 810, 825, 870, and 890 servers as well as the iSeries Power5 and System i Power5+ machines can do this RAID hot sparing, but you need to be on V5R4M5 to do it.
IBM also announced a new thing called the System i temporary software license, which allows customers to license their i5/OS programs that come from Big Blue for a term ranging from as little as 15 days to as much as 12 months, allowing them to run two systems with the same software side by side. This can help simplify the licensing mess as customers do push-pull system upgrades. This will be particularly helpful for customers with vintage AS/400 and iSeries boxes that do not have direct upgrade paths to the current Power5+ or Power6 servers and which will certainly not have an upgrade path to the full-fledged System i6 Power6 server line, whenever that comes out. (Again, February or March 2008 is the latest rumor.) These temporary licenses will be available beginning August 17.
Temporary licenses can be applied to AS/400, iSeries, and System i machines, obviously. OS/400 V4R5, V5R1, V5R2, and V5R3 are supported with temporary licenses, as is i5/OS V5R4. Pricing for the stack of IBM software (which does not include the operating system and database, but the typical add-ons to OS/400 and i5/OS) ranges from $375 per month for a P05-class machine to $12,500 per month for a P60-class box.