You Can Still Walk Upgrade Paths with Power Systems i
November 3, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In the server racket, the term upgrade has a lot of different meanings. In general, it involves some means of boosting the processing capacity of a machine, be it from additional processors, memory, disk spindles, or I/O capacity. But when most people talk about upgrading their AS/400, iSeries, System i, or Power Systems i box, they are talking about adding processing capacity. And sometimes, that means a little change inside a server or swapping out most or all of the guts in a box to make a change to the system.
Even with a substantial amount of engineering change in the current Power6-based Power Systems i boxes, which have been rolling out piecemeal since July 2007 and which were just revamped in early October with a doubling up on the core count on Power 520, 550, and 570 machines and the debut of a new Power 560 machine, IBM is still offering some upgrades to the new machines and between models in the line. Which is good for customers, since upgrades can play havoc with depreciation schedules if server numbers of machines are not preserved.
The upgrade paths that IBM offers today are nothing like the broad and deep coverage that Big Blue offered in the 9404 and 9406 lines back in the late 1980s and the 9402, 9404, and 9406 lines in the 1990s. Back then, because the underlying technology did not change all that quickly, IBM could offer an upgrade from any model in an AS/400 family to any other model in that family, as well as upgrades from the top end of one family into the bottom end of the next higher family. Basically, you could get from anywhere to anywhere else in the line, and more importantly, the jump had a precise cost associated with it that you could look up in the IBM configurators. IBM used to publish every upgrade path in the announcement letters, and I used to spend a weekend or two looking up every price for every upgrade, calculating the relative price/performance of the jumps. This information is not so easy to come by these days. While IBM’s announcement letters have far more data than competitors offer, they are a lot weaker than in the old days. (Heaven help me, I think I just sounded like a geezer, perhaps my Dad.)
The new IBM is a lot more focused on making machines that hit precise price points, and this is particularly true of the Power 520 box. And that means, unfortunately, that the company can’t spend as much time on offering myriad upgrade paths and training sales reps and techs, as well as resellers, on all of these options. The other reason you don’t see upgrades from Power4 or Power4+ machines to the new Power6 boxes is that servers depreciate in value, in terms of their economic life, a lot faster than they used to. (Blame Moore’s Law for that one.) Each year, the amount of absolute processing power a vendor can deliver is just a lot larger, and is often growing faster than processing requirements for back office systems. (Forget Google, Facebook, MySpace, Microsoft, Yahoo, and all of those Web 2.0 companies. How many midrange companies do you know who are doubling their end user counts every 18 to 24 months? Or their application module count? Get real.)
Anyway, IBM is still doing what it can with the revamped Power6 lineup. Because the upgrade details were not part of the October announcements, I did some digging to come up with some data for you as you plan out your upgrades and acquisitions. If you are buying a new machine, you should have a sense of your options before you decide.
So first of all, here is what IBM says about the converged Power6 boxes that came out in October:
You’ll notice at the bottom of the chart that there is a firmware upgrade that will allow Power 520 and Power 550 machines to be converted to the 8203 and 8204 versions of the boxes; this firmware upgrade, which will be available in February 2009, will allow the machine to run AIX or Linux as the primary operating system as well as i 6.1. Up until now, there were i Edition boxes and AIX and Linux Edition machines, but now there is no difference. As you can also see from the chart, IBM is promising upgrades and conversions within the server families and from earlier 9406 boxes to the new 820X boxes.
This chart shows the upgrade paths in the Power 520 line in more detail:
Here’s the detail on the Power 550 upgrade paths:
Now, if you are buying one of the new Power 560 boxes, which span up to 16 cores in a two-chassis system (think of it as half of a Power 570), remember that IBM is not offering upgrade paths that preserve serial numbers into this box:
But, as you can see, you can upgrade within the Power 560 to add processing capacity.
Now, we move on up to the Power 570. This chart shows the situation about how the System i 570 and System p 570 were converged back in April. Doubling up the core counts to a maximum of 32 cores in the Power 570 did not change the upgrade paths, as you can see:
Now, there are lots and lots of upgrade paths within the Power 570s and into the Power 570s, as the next three charts show:
Here’s the thing to remember as you buy a machine. If a box has a lower price for given unit of performance–think the Power 520 and the Power 560–then IBM is thinking of this as a “you buy it, and you buy it right” box. That means limited upgrades into the box, or possibly none. (The user-priced System i 515 didn’t have any upgrade paths into it or out of it, and neither does the new Power 560.) But machines that have lots of expansion for memory, I/O, and such–think the Power 550 and the Power 570–will have more upgrade options. You are, in a sense, paying for that luxury since these machines are a lot more expensive for a given amount of processing capacity, as I have shown in the past several months.
You don’t get anything for free in this world. Never did, and never will.