Q&A with IBM’s Ross Mauri: Talking Power Systems and Power7
August 4, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Q&A with IBM’s Ross Mauri: Talking Power Systems and Power7
Back in early 2006, one of the up-and-coming executives at IBM was tapped to become the general manager of the company’s fast-growing pSeries Unix server and workstation business line. Two reorganizations and two years later, and that executive, Ross Mauri, a graduate of Marist College–one of the hotbeds of academic mainframia–who aspired once to merely be an MVS systems programmer at Big Blue, found himself in charge of a very big piece of IBM. Perhaps the most important part, too.
Mauri is in charge of the Power Systems division, of course, where Power-based servers and the AIX and i operating systems created for them by IBM, as well as the Linux operating system that is tuned for them, reside. Power Systems does the research, development, and manufacturing surrounding the Power platform as well as all of the strategy surrounding those platforms, which are sold by IBM and others, such as in game consoles. And while customer-facing marketing is done these days by IBM’s newly created Enterprise Systems division (for the largest customers in the IBM fold) and Business Systems division (for everyone else), the Power Systems division has plenty of input into marketing nonetheless.
By inheriting the i-related business at IBM when the System p line was merged with the System i line, Mauri inherited one other thing: a history of speaking to customers, resellers, partners, and the IT trade press. Because the i customer base represents half of IBM’s accounts in the world, it is unwise to stay in any ivory tower up in Somers or Armonk, New York. So, like his predecessors who ran the AS/400, iSeries, and System i divisions, Mauri took some time out of his busy schedule last week to talk about the merged Power Systems business and with a little nudging talked a little bit about the future Power7 product line.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: Many of the reader’s of IT Jungle’s newsletters are only familiar with you as being the general manager of the Power Systems division, but I know you have a long history in development and management at IBM. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in charge of the Power Systems product line, which rivals Big Blue’s mainframes in terms of sales each year?
Ross Mauri: I started at IBM in 1980 as an assembly language programmer in MVS development, and was very thrilled to be joining IBM and, frankly, I met my career goal the day that I joined IBM because what I really wanted to do was write assembly language operating system code.
TPM: That was a very odd career goal back in 1980, and it sounds even more eccentric today. . . .
RM: And then, it was six and a half years later, and I had done just about everything that I could from within my department, from working with customers and GUIDE and SHARE working on requirements to designing new releases to writing new code to testing it–to even being involved with post-release problems with customers and helping them configure systems and all that. And so I decided to go into management, and that was all in what was called back then the Myers Corners Laboratory, the home of MVS development. [Editor’s Note: This lab is located in Poughkeepsie, New York, in case you don’t know.] I was in management for about five years, and I had a couple second line jobs, three first line jobs, and they were all centered around architecture design and development–if you will, the front-end of the process.
And then, out of the blue, I got a call from Nick Donofrio asking if I would like to go to Paris. We were starting up our Client/Server, to be based in Europe, and they wanted someone with a server background to go run that–not someone with a client background, if you know what I mean–and so I was happy to start up our Client/Server unit, which I did for two and a half years. I got to run a few sales units, and I ended up as the head of Software Group marketing for all of EMEA, which was a tremendous experience for me.
When I came back from Paris, I stepped into again, so to speak, and was offered the job of being Lou Gerstner’s technical assistant, or TA as we call it, for nearly a year, which was yet another growth assignment for me. It was tremendous for me to be in the presence of a great leader, not only for the industry, but certainly in the history of IBM. It was like getting a mini-MBA in a very short amount of time just following that man around, which is how I explain the experience to people.
And then I went back into development. I ran System/390 hardware development for a while, and I had various development jobs. For a year, I also ran marketing for the System/390 brand, too, but for the most part I had a number of development jobs, which culminated in my running all of the development within Systems Group. Then I got popped out of development again because Sam Palmisano wanted me to run the company’s overall play for e-business, across all of the different IBM units. And then I came into running the System p and now the Power Systems business. I have spent about two-thirds of my time in development, with the other third in different key management roles. And I have loved every minute of working at IBM. Well, every minute is a bit too strong–there are parts of every day that are tough, because this is business, after all. But I love being here, and I am heading toward my 29th anniversary with IBM in January and it has been a great run for me.
TPM: The reason I made you go through all of that is because whenever I am introducing a new general manager to my readers, I want them to hear the narrative arc. A lot of this stuff doesn’t end up in the official biography. It isn’t in yours, for instance.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about the Power Systems business.
RM: Sure. The second quarter was just a phenomenal one for Power Systems. It started early, on April 2 in Nashville, when we were at COMMON doing the New Power Equation, talking about our new unified product line and focusing on the i client base. And then on April 8, we were in San Francisco launching the high-end products, the Power Systems 595 and 575 supercomputer. And then we went around the world, literally, for the next five weeks, educating 10,000 sellers and another 10,000 customers at launch events in 20 countries to get the New Power Equation off the ground. We had two significant, world-record events. We announced the first petaflops supercomputer and then the 6 million TPC-C run for our high-end Unix server. And then we finished the second quarter by delivering an outstanding set of financial results, which I am sure you listened to Mark Loughridge, our chief financial officer, talk about.
As far as Power Systems goes, we had a great quarter, and we took share from Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems. We will see what IDC and Gartner come out with in time, but I am expecting to have a good pretty good quarter against them. We had 29 percent revenue growth for System p, which represents the Power6 and Power5 AIX products as well as all of the new Power6 i products that we sold. We have customers moving onto this platform and we have some momentum here. I think you know we have repacked all of our virtualization offerings into what we call PowerVM, and 64 percent of our orders this quarter in Power Systems had virtualization enabled; this technology, which used to be centered around the high end boxes is now spreading down across the line down to the 570, the 550, and even the 520 is getting great penetration.
We have had very strong demand for our high-end Power 595 systems, and our overall high-end systems revenue was up 21 percent for the quarter. And remarkably for me, the Power 570 just had a tremendous quarter, revenues were up in the midrange segment by 68 percent in the quarter. This also includes Power 550 boxes, and the results were just stellar. Both did very well, but the 570 was just off the charts.
If you look at the Power Systems i and what we call externally the Legacy i servers, there were some real bright spots. We had double-digit growth in Asia/Pacific, particularly in China, south Asia, and India. We also had double-digit growth in key segments, such as banking, travel and transportation, and industrial products. We have only taken our first steps in the unified products. i 6.1 doesn’t even GA on the Power 595 until August 26. So we have this whole playing field in front of us, and I think there are some interesting and exciting things happening around i. You have covered the BladeCenter S and JS12 blades in the i Edition, and have covered the Vertical Industry Program as well, which has a very targeted approach to the SMB space. I could go on and on. But you have questions.
TPM: Can you put the i server sales back together for me–Power6 i plus Legacy i–and help me understand how these products did in the second quarter?
RM: We can’t externally report it because it cannot be tied back to our ledgers because of the converged models. But I can say this: We had an OK quarter with i, and we did not, and I said not, have a terrible quarter with i. And again my view is that this was our first step. Wait until we have our second step and our third step, when we will have all the converged products going. You know the i base better than I do. They pause, and now they are looking at all the new offerings, and even with all of that, I am pleased with where we ended up with i.
TPM: There is a lot of chatter out there right now about the future Power7 chips, and some talk about the possibility of a Power6+ processor bump coming perhaps next year. What can you tell us about IBM’s plans for Power6+ and Power7 chips to clear up the matter a bit?
RM: Just to be candid, I wasn’t talking about Power7 last quarter because I was talking about Power6. But as the “chatter” states, Power7 is well under development, and it will power on later this year and it’s a 2010 product. And in case anyone is worried about our commitment here, we are already working on the design of Power8. I prefer to talk about the stuff that I can actually sell. But for the technology-interested folks and the folks who want to see if we are going to continue our investment in Power, we absolutely are.
TPM: I don’t think anyone had any doubts about that, Ross. . . . You didn’t just pump billions of dollars into East Fishkill for nothing.
RM: There you go.
TPM: We’re not worried about Power7, but we all want to known its shape and feeds and speeds. I am just curious because I love the technology inside chips. Can you at least confirm that Power7 is an eight-core chip that the chatter is going on about?
RM: [Laughter] Yes.
TPM: Yes, you can confirm, or yes, it is an eight-core chip?
RM: Yes, I can confirm that. But I am not going to get into the frequency and the pipeline depth and size of cache and some really cool other stuff that we are doing. And the reason I am not going to do that is because I don’t want to give our competitors a head’s up. We’re doing really cool stuff in Power7, and there will be a time to talk about that.
TPM: Fair enough. That gives me some time to dig around and speculate. [Laughter] Let’s shift gears a bit away from processors and talk about storage for a bit. Solid-state disks are starting to find their way into servers now, and so are flash-based hypervisors. What are IBM’s plans for using SSD and flash inside Power Systems gear?
RM: We’re working on flash drives. We’ll have to at first attach them through external interfaces and then build them into the next generation of systems. We are working away on that hard right now. I think we’ll have some announcements about our plans in the coming months. We’re the kind of company that doesn’t usually get out in front of our blockers, so to speak, but we have serious development under way around solid state and around flash.
TPM: The one area where there has been a lot of innovation in the past several years is in form factors, and I am specifically talking about the advent of blade servers like IBM’s BladeCenter designs, and more recently, the iDataPlex design, which is a more stateless and compact design than even the BladeCenter. What kinds of transformations in the standard tower, rack, and blade form factors is IBM examining? For instance, why not have a common set of motherboards that work as blades that fit inside towers and racks equally well, and therefore simplify your product line? Or, I can envision a quasi-blade form factor that is akin to what Sun Microsystems does with the X4600, where you have processor, memory, and I/O modules that plug into a backplane, but one that lets you scale up CPU, memory, and I/O independently inside of the same box as the workload dictates.
What kinds of different form factors and electronics packaging are coming, or is there no need for big changes?
RM: For the Power7 family, we are thinking about all of this–not because our current form factors haven’t served us well. We have, as you know, reintroduced water cooling with the Power 575, which might be something that people might not have been expecting. But you’re talking about a more modular, building block approach, and we are thinking about these things. I would say that we are not yet ready to signal which way we are going to go with Power7, since it is truly still under discussion. And since these are 2010 products, we still have a little runway here ahead of us. But we’re trying to think through what additional form factors are needed for SMB customers to make simpler, quieter, in the corner computing–and part of this is to deliver it through the Internet, as with the Blue Business Platform–but then we are also thinking through innovation in the areas of electric usage and cooling. I think out Power6 line is remarkable in terms of what it can do, but we are thinking through what we can do in the Power7 timeframe to take it up to another level.
You touched on some of the things that were are definitely talking about for development of Power7 and Power7+ systems.
TPM: With small and medium businesses, the only green they are interested in most days is money. Having said that, I presume that we are going to have to have water-cooled or at least liquid-cooled strategy for all server gear going forward because of the radical efficiency and density it affords. I love the whole air-cooled era of computing, and it has been a great run, but I think it is over.
RM: We are thinking that through as well. And that doesn’t mean that IBM is going to deliver water cooling in all machines. But we are absolutely thinking about the efficiency–density is great so long as you don’t burn the data center down. I think everybody has to. I think the days of having thousands 0f X86 pizza boxes blowing an incredible amount of hot air–those days just have to be over.