More Power Transitions Are on the Way
June 2, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The ink is not dry on the latest round of Power6-based Power Systems servers and IBM, its reseller and distributor partners, and soon its customers are already thinking about the next and final transitions coming to the converged Power Systems product line. Even though IBM has, for all practical purposes, merged the somewhat independent System i and System p server lines, they are still distinct in many ways. But apparently, according to my sources, that is going to change, once and for all, later this year.
While many of us are happily unaware of many of the changes that IBM and reseller partners have had to cope with as part of the Power Systems merger, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot for them to do. System p and System i resellers were immediately allowed to sell not only their respective AIX and Linux Edition or i Edition variants of the Power Systems servers that were announced this year or, in the case of the Power 570, revamped as a single product that technically already existed in the field. They were also allowed to sell the i5/OS V5R4 or i 6.1 (in the case of System p resellers) or AIX 5.3 or 6.1 (in the case of System i resellers) software and any related hardware or software. Both sets of resellers were already authorized to peddle Linux on Power, but the System p resellers had a lot more of this action, obviously. IBM has had to rejigger and merge sales incentives for resellers, and unify its financing terms, returns policies for unsold machinery, reseller margins and related revenue targets, and a whole slew of metrics and promotions that drive what resellers try to sell and to whom. Both products also have their own value-added software and services (which is what allows resellers to peddle the products) and approvals to go into specific customer accounts. A lot more has had to happen inside IBM besides printing out four sets of spec sheets and four different feature price lists.
But, as I say, the work of converging the product lines is not truly done. First, the Power5+ 515 and 525 machines are still in the catalog, and the i Edition of the Power6-based Power 520 and 550 machines are still unique machines with their own configurators. (That is 9407-M15 and 9408-M25 for the Power 520, and 9409-M50 for the Power 550 for the i Editions, which is 8203-E4A for the Power 520 and 8204-E8A for the AIX and Linux Editions of the same machines.) In late March, the Power 570 was finally consolidated down to the System p product number–9117-MMA–and the Power 575 “Hydro Cluster” supercomputer node doesn’t support i5/OS V5R4 or i 6.1 (although that would be interesting) and is given its own System p-style 9125-F2A product number. The high-end Power 595 server, which packs up to 64 cores, just started supporting AIX 6.1 last week and won’t get support for i5/OS V5R4 or i 6.1 until September 9 and Linux will have to wait until October 24.
By around the time that i and Linux support becomes available–my sources say maybe in September, maybe in October–the final and complete merger of the Power Systems products will be complete, and in effect, the System i software catalog and its several unique hardware features will be merged into what I would have called the System p product line before the Power Systems convergence. At that time, the i Editions of the Power Systems machines are going to be replaced by the 520 and 550 machines, formerly known as the AIX and Linux Editions, that can now run any of the three operating systems with no restrictions. There will apparently not be any editions, but just a single server with three operating systems and a single set of incentives, discounts, and such.
This is also about the time that resellers are going to have to start getting recertified to sell and support the united lineup and in the case of i resellers, some are facing requirements to have more employees and to meet higher sales quotas on big boxes as the i and p channels are being aligned. Of course, many resellers will now be able to count employees on both sides of the Power Systems aisle in their shops, so these restrictions may not hurt resellers. (It will come down to situations, and a company with a specialty in large i-class machines and no p customer base is going to be hit the hardest.) IBM is apparently in the process of updating sales and technical certification materials to reflect the new Power6 iron and the new i 6.1 and AIX 6.1 platforms, materials that have not been updated since the Power5 rollout in July 2005 and which are expected to be available this July, including sales and technical certification tests. As of right now, all current i or p resellers have to meet the current requirements to sell Power Systems, and they are being given until September 2009 to take the new certification tests.
What practical effects the final merger of the line–by eliminating editions or certifications of resellers–might have on the revenue stream from the i product line is not clear, but this appears to be the final change that IBM, its partners, and resellers are facing.
The “real” merger of the i and p low-end machines, by eliminating the distinction between i Editions and AIX and Linux Editions, should have one practical effect for i shops. On the Power 520, the i Edition has a maximum of two Power6 cores, while the AIX and Linux Edition supports four cores; similarly, the Power 550 i Edition supports only four cores, while the AIX and Linux Edition has up to eight cores. I think IBM was worried about Power6 yields, and was also trying to pump up sales of Power 570 machines among i shops who might have opted for a Power 550 if they could get a machine with six or eight cores–especially considering that the Power 550 is in the P20 software tier, while an eight-core Power 570 is in the P30 tier. The lower the tier, the less expensive the software. Some prior generations of Power5 and Power5+ 570-class machines are in the P40 and P50 tiers. You know customers are always trying to get as much processing power per software tier as they can. Cutting the core count back on Power 520 and 550 boxes was a way to maintain revenue streams. But that can’t hold forever, especially with IBM truly aligning the i and p products.
The other thing that might be possible in the September or October final merger of the Power Systems products and the elimination of separate i or AIX and Linux editions is faster Power6 processors and denser memory modules. IBM was originally targeting 6 GHz and higher for the Power6 clock speeds, and in the entry 520-class machines, i shops are only seeing a 10 percent performance boost while 550-class machines are showing about 25 percent more CPW oomph, core for core. That is not a big boost in performance, and if IBM is trying to hold prices stable for i boxes, it may have to give more performance to get the money. I haven’t heard that faster Power6 chips are coming, so don’t bank on that yet. If I do get the impression this is happening, I will let you know.