Note to IBM: Price Power 720s to Crush Xeon 5600 Systems
March 22, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
When IBM‘s entry Power 720 Power7-based servers–probably in two-socket and four-socket configurations and likely using four-core and six-core variants of the chips with lots of the L3 cache disabled if my hunch is right–come to market in maybe April or May of this year, they will be facing some pretty stiff X64 competition from systems that use the new “Westmere-EP” Xeon 5600s that Intel announced last week.
As expected, the Xeon 5600s come in four-core and six-core variants, and deliver roughly 40 to 50 percent more oomph than their quad-core predecessors, the “Nehalem-EP” Xeon 5500s that debuted last March and that have been largely responsible for a resurgence in server sales as 2009 came to a close. As you know, I have a second life as Systems Editor over at The Register, and I am not going to duplicate the detailed analysis I did for the Xeon 5600s here. (If you are interested in that coverage, then read Intel pushes workhorse Xeons to six cores for the feeds, speeds, prices, and see Intel wants vintage x64 servers on rubbish heap for the sales pitch analysis.)
What I will do here in The Four Hundred is remind you that a little more than a year ago, in the wake of the Xeon 5500 announcement, I said it was time for IBM to double up the processing capacity in the Power 520 and Power 550 lines or cut the software activation and per-user charges for i 6.1 roughly in half to better compete with the Nehalem-EP machines. As I showed then, for a small number of users (25), the Power 520 was in spitting distance with a Windows boxes configured to support roughly the same OLTP load and number of end users, but as you jumped to 150 and then 320 users, the i 6.1 box quickly became a lot more expensive–like three times as expensive for a complete Windows stack, including VMware server virtualization. Now, with the Westmere-EPs, the boxes will get a 50 percent or so performance boost, but the prices of the chips and the systems are more or less the same, and so will the software stack be since it is not priced per core, but per system.
Enter the Power 720. IBM could put four to 16 cores into its entry box, offering roughly two times minimum and four times the maximum the OLTP capacity of the converged Power6+ version of the Power 520. The iron is there, and IBM should without hesitation get a very peppy Power 720 into the field to actually beat two-socket Xeon 5600 servers, socket for socket, transaction for transaction. But if IBM persists in charging too much for the i 6.1 software stack, and tries to maintain per core charges on these entry boxes and the too high per-user fees to access that stack, then there is no way the i For Business platform will compete with the Windows Server 2008-SQL Server-ESX Server triumvirate the way it needs to.
It’s not too late to get this right, IBM.