IBM’s Dynamic Infrastructure Announcement Blitz
February 16, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
For a long time now, the major IT players in the world have been pitching the idea of convergence, by which they meant the coming together of computing and telecommunications technology. Now that the BlackBerry and the iPhone are here, this is pretty much a done deal. (I am joking, sort of.) But Big Blue, hot to chase some economic stimulus dollars from Uncle Sam and to get a piece of a different part of the capital budget at companies, has a new kind of convergence in mind.
This time around, IBM’s top brass is pitching the idea of Dynamic Infrastructure, and this includes the familiar IT and telecom infrastructure, of course, as well as all kinds of other physical systems that are being equipped with ever-increasing levels of sensors and intelligence. (Well, automation, anyway, but people say intelligence as if that could be programmed into anything, including a human being, much less an embedded controller.) We’re talking about computerizing and networking all of the physical infrastructure in the world here: roads, bridges, and highways; all of the electronics and computing in our homes and businesses; distribution systems for fuels and power; agricultural product suppliers and distributors; hospitals and schools; and planes, trains, and automobiles. If you are a bit cynical about it and are in your late 30s to mid-40s, we are basically talking about just this side of SkyNet, and if you are paranoid, I think we might be talking about SkyNet, so it is time for you to go off-grid, man.
Anyway. IBM’s business partners have been telling the company to do fewer launches in a year to give them more time to sell, and last week IBM chose its Pulse 2009 event in Las Vegas to launch its marketing attack on the convergence of digital and physical infrastructure. (Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps blew off his keynote address at Pulse 2009 thanks to his extralacunalar activities at a recent party.) That left former iSeries general manager and current Tivoli general manager Al Zollar giving the keynote. IBM cited statistics from IDC to give shape and size to this opportunity, which the market researcher said will account for about $122 billion in server, storage, software, and services sales by 2012. That’s probably about what IBM’s entire sales volume will be in 2012, unless the economy recovers pretty quickly and IBM benefits from that recovery. IBM’s revenues are not, of course, dedicated to digital and physical convergence, but mostly to the operations of about 500,000 data centers in the world.
Oddly enough, there were not any mainframe or Power Systems announcements of any huge consequence in this Dynamic Infrastructure push, and there were only some minor System x and BladeCenter announcements. IBM focused a lot on storage and infrastructure management.
Given the breadth of what IBM is proposing, that there was no talk of future Power6+ and Power7 Power Systems machines seemed a bit odd. IBM did roll out a new 4 GB memory card for the Power 520 server and the removed existing 1 GB, 2 GB, and 4 GB memory cards from the IBM catalog. IBM is shifting from 512 Mbit DDR2 DRAM memory chips on the memory cards to 1 Gbit DRAM. Now, all new Power 520s will come with 4 GB of base memory, and customers will have to add memory in 4 GB increments on these entry servers. It is not clear if IBM is offering customers the extra 3 GB of memory for free, since it is in a base system. One would hope. Customers who upgrade to the Power 520 can still get the less dense memory modules, but probably only for a short time.
For the so-called Power 520 Express Edition machines, which come preconfigured and with slight discounts, the configurations will now be as follows: the two-core versions with either 3.5 GHz or 4.2 GHz Power6 cores will have 4 GB; machines with four cores activated running at either speed will have 8 GB (two cards); and machines with all eight cores activated at running at 3.5 GHz or 4.2 GHz will have 16 GB (four cards). The four-core and eight-core Solution Edition variants of the Power 520 will all come with 4 GB.
IBM also said last week that it would allow Power 520 tower machines to be converted to rack configurations and visa versa.
The company also killed off the entry System p5 505 rack server and the high-end System p5 595 enterprise server, effective May 29. These machines use the older Power5+ processors that were replaced a year ago by Power6 chips. The high-end p5 595 box has been replaced by the Power 595, a very similar box (and one with an upgrade path from the p5 595), and IBM would rather sell Power6 JS12 blades or Power 520 rack servers with eight cores in a 2U chassis than an entry p5 505 these days with four cores in a 1U chassis. These are the same number of cores per rack, but half the number of power supplies. Which is why there is not a Power 505 analog in the current Power Systems lineup.
And it is also adding upgrades for support contracts between the different editions of the PowerVM logical partitioning hypervisor used on Power Systems. Now, if you start with one level of the hypervisor and you are on a support contract for it, you can upgrade and pay a net-cost upgrade on that support as you move up and get more features.
On the System x front, where IBM has seen sales plummet in the past two quarters, the high-end x3950 M2 server has been launched with Intel‘s fastest “Dunnington” Xeon MP processors, which in this case is a six-core X7460 chip with 9 MB of L2 cache and 16 MB of L3 cache on the chip running at 2.66 GHz. The x390 M2 is based on four-socket motherboards and up to 16 sockets, for a total of 96 cores, can be glued together using IBM’s EX4 chipset. IBM will make this faster Xeon MP chip available in the box on March 10. On that same day, the smaller four-socket x3850 M2 server will be available using the quad-core Dunnington E7420 processor running at 2.13 GHz; this chip has 6 MB of L2 cache and 8 MB of L3 cache.
The System x3755 quad-socket server will also be available on March 6 with Advanced Micro Devices‘ standard quad-core “Shanghai” processors, which run at between 2.4 GHz and 2.7 GHz and which started shipping in November. Three weeks ago, AMD announced faster Opteron SE and lower-powered Opteron HE parts, but these are not yet available for the x3755. The quad-core Opteron HE chips in the Shanghai generation are, however, going to be available on March 9 for the company’s two-socket LS22 and four-socket LS42 blade servers for its BladeCenter chassis. IBM is shipping the 2.3 GHz Opteron 2376 HE in the LS22 blade, and either the 2.2 GHz Opteron 8374 HE or 2.3 GHz Opteron 8376 HE in the LS42 blade. IBM is also shipping 8 GB DDR2 main memory DIMMs for these blades as well to double up the memory density alongside the doubling up of processing capacity compared to the existing dual-core Opteron HE chips.
On the storage front, IBM offered a cut-down version of its XIV clustered storage arrays, which it launched in August last year after acquiring the Israeli company by the same name back in January 2008. The original XIV array has six X64-based motherboards acting as controllers for nine disk array models with 20 drives each (for a total of 180 disks) into an array with 79 GB of usable capacity. Beginning last week, the XIV array can be bought with as little as three X64 boards (which are called interface modules) and three data modules (with 72 drives) for a total of 27 TB of usable capacity. Customers can upgrade from the smaller unit and add three more interface modules and then step up one extra data module at a time until they hit the maximum of nine. Why you can’t add four or five interface modules is not clear. The smaller XIV unit was available starting February 10, and the upgrades to larger units will be available beginning March 5.
On its traditional disk arrays, the high-end DS8000 now supports 1 TB SATA disks spinning at 7,200 RPM to give customers a low-cost, high-capacity alternative to SAS drives. The SATA drives are only available in RAID 6 or RAID 10 configurations, which shows you IBM doesn’t trust these drives as much as SAS units (and that’s a fair thing to say). With the SATA drives, a DS8000 can now house over 1 PB of capacity. IBM has also announced full encryption of data on the DS8000 arrays, something it added to tape drives and tape cartridges that hold data archives several years ago. IBM also said that it has delivered a new feature called intelligent write caching to boost the I/O throughput and reduce response times on the DS8000s. IBM has also cut down on the steps to configure point-in-time copy and metro mirroring operations in the arrays.
Not everything IBM announced last week was part of its Dynamic Infrastructure announcement extravaganza, although it got thrown into the same basket nonetheless. For the past few weeks, IBM has been gradually removing switch equipment created by Cisco Systems from its BladeCenter catalog, presumably because Cisco is getting ready to launch its own blade server line. (That’s my coverage of the impending “California” blade server announcement from Cisco over at The Register.) Last week, a 20-port, 4 Gb/sec Fibre Channel switch module was axed from the catalog effective May 29. A bunch of older QLogic Fibre Channel switches were also removed, but unlike the Cisco products, these have new replacements from QLogic.
IBM also said that it was withdrawing support for Version 6.0 of its WebSphere server products–Application Server, Application Server-Express, Application Server Network Deployment, and Application Server for Developers–on September 30, 2010. This applies to all platforms where WebSphere runs, which includes i, mainframe, Linux, Windows, and Unix boxes. These WebSphere Version 6.0 products date from November 2004 and are pretty long in the tooth. Support for WebSphere 6.01 releases will still be available, and so will be support for the current WebSphere 7.0 products.