IBM Preps Power7 Launch For February
January 25, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Well, some of the mystery behind IBM‘s forthcoming and, as we now know impending, Power7-based Power Systems server launch has been solved. I said some of the mystery, so don’t get overly excited. As best as I can figure, I will still have some time to go through my hypothetical System iWant, 2010 Edition, product line before Big Blue actually gets the Power7 machines launched. But it also looks like I had better hurry.
In going over IBM’s financial results for the fourth quarter of 2009 yesterday, Mark Loughridge, the company’s chief financial officer, gave a rundown on the Power Systems business–which Loughridge, like IBM’s other top brass still annoyingly calls the Converged System p line–and then he tossed in this sentence: “Later this quarter, we’ll introduce the next generation Power Systems, which will deliver two to three times the performance, in the same energy envelope. So quite an announcement for this product line.”
Readers of The Four Hundred already knew about the rough performance range of the Power7-based machines. But what we didn’t know is that the machines are apparently right around the corner. And as the IBM advertisement that ran in the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday confirmed, the launch is set for sometime in February. (See this related story in this issue for the scoop on that ad.)
The COMMON midrange user group and expo is coming up in Orlando, Florida, between May 3 and 6, and it is there that most of us had been expecting that at least some Power7-based were to be announced. But IBM never confirmed when Power7 machines were to be launched, except to say that the first machines using the Power7s will come out sometime in the first half of 2010 and hinting last October that the Power7s would have a “rolling thunder” style rollout–meaning the whole lineup was not coming out at the same time, but would happen in stages across 2010. Announcements are not delivery schedules, and it is still possible that all of the Power7 machines will be announced at the same time, but deliveries are spread out. This has certainly happened before, with midrange or entry Power boxes coming first, followed up by big Power machines months later. This certainly was the case with the initial Power5 machines and the Power6 machines, too, now that I think of it.
I don’t think competitive pressure is weighing heavily on IBM yet, which means this is not the direct explanation of why the Power7 launch has been moved up (if it was indeed supposed to go down in May at COMMON). What seems more likely is that IBM knows it can’t get System z servers to market until later this year–the word on the street is that they are due in the third quarter–and maybe the high-end Power7 boxes won’t be available until May or June. With System z sales dropping like a stone and System x and BladeCenter sales growing nicely but only after falling off a cliff last year, IBM has a server sales gap it needs to fill and IBM’s X64 server biz ain’t gonna do the trick.
Moreover, IBM has a new server chief, Rod Adkins, who wants the Systems and Technology Group to pull its weight in terms of revenues and profits, and that means getting the Power Systems machines out the door now, if the chip yields are good and the systems are ready, rather than waiting for May. It is better to get Power7 machines out now, particularly if the AS/400-iSeries-System i and RS/6000-pSeries-System p customer bases are both holding their checkbooks firmly until they see what technical characteristics Power7 machines have and what kind of bang for the buck they offer.
The Power Systems business is not just inwardly looking, of course. IBM surely wants to get the Power7 machines out the door before competitive systems based on X64 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices get out the door this quarter and cause customers to pause. The quad-core “Tukwila” Itanium chips, presumably to be called the Itanium 9500s, will take aim at the midrange and high-end of the Unix business (thanks mostly to Hewlett-Packard‘s Integrity server family). With IBM offering two to three times the oomph in Power7 systems compared to Power6 machines, and Tukwila boxes probably yielding a 2X performance boost, the relatively competitive positions of Power and Itanium boxes will not change unless one vendor gets aggressive about pricing.
I think there is little doubt that the pricing will be very aggressive on the impending eight-core “Beckton” Nehalem-EX processors from Intel, which will be used to create machines with anywhere from eight to 64 processor cores using Intel’s own chipsets. These Intel chips, which will probably be called the Xeon 7500s (due sometime in the first half of this year and able to run Windows, Linux, and Solaris), may be what has IBM a little nervous with regard to its Converged System p–excuse me, I meant to say Power Systems AIX–product line.
Not to mention AMD’s dozen-core “Magny-Cours” Opteron 6000s, due by the end of the first quarter, running the same Windows, Linux, and Solaris options, and having as many as 48 cores in a single system image. (AMD supports eight sockets with the current AMD 5690 chipset, but is cutting back to four sockets with Magny-Cours so it can create more power efficient and lower cost servers.)
All of this midrange and what is arguably high-end X64 iron is going to put some pressure on the Power Systems line running AIX. An improved SQL Server 2008 R2, due in May, running on Windows Server 2008 R2 (shipping since last July), on any of this iron is going to be formidable competition in terms of bang for the buck. And as one of the dominant X64 vendors, IBM knows this full well.
So, getting Power7 machines out now rather than waiting until later makes sense.