Smackdown: Linux on X64 Versus IBM i on Entry Power 7XXs
November 8, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
IBM should be grateful that Linux and open source relational databases like MySQL (now from Oracle) and PostgreSQL (which is commercially supported by EnterpriseDB are about as unfamiliar as Vulcan is to those who speak Klingon but have managed a little broken English. (Yes, that was a metaphor for Unix or Linux, IBM i, and Windows.) Because as cheap as the more familiar Windows entry servers are compared to entry and midrange Power7 servers, Linux systems are even less costly.
Like crazy stupid less expensive.
The good news for IBM and its ISV partners, who still bundle software on systems and sell them as turnkey solutions, is that Oracle last week jacked up support prices on the open source MySQL database. (No, really? What a surprise from Oracle chief executive officer and co-founder, Larry “That’s My Money In Your Pocket” Ellison.) Sun Microsystems, which was eager to take on Oracle in the database racket after shelling out $1 billion to buy MySQL nearly three years ago, was charging $599 for a basic MySQL support contract, which ran for a year. Silver-level support, which is akin to 9×5 business day support, cost $1,999, while platinum support for the database cost $4,999. Now, Oracle has eliminated the cheap license and the business-class support contract now costs $2,000 per server. A cluster edition license costs $10,000 per server. (Those prices are for four-socket machines or smaller. You have to buy multiple licenses for larger machines.)
MySQL is no longer setting the pace in the open source database space, at least not for commercially supported databases. EnterpriseDB is with its variants of PostgreSQL, a much older and in some ways a much better open source database.
As you can see from its pricing page, EnterpriseDB is charging $995 per socket on two-socket servers for its Standard Server 8.3 R2 database and $2,995 per socket for the software running on four-socket and larger machines. This is an inexpensive database, and according to benchmark tests run by Red Hat and EnterpriseDB on two-socket X64 boxes, using an open source implementation of a TPC-C alike test called BenchmarkSQL, the PostgreSQL database has a slight performance advantage on the same iron as the Windows Server 2008/SQL Server 2008 combination from Microsoft.
Red Enterprise Linux 5.5, which is the top-selling Linux distribution, comes with a number of different support and packaging options, but for a simple database server, the Premium Subscription (24×7) support contract is what most customers should go for. The Standard Subscription is a lot cheaper at $799 per year, and the Basic Subscription is even cheaper at $349. But the latter only gives you Web support with a two-day response, which is totally unacceptable for a commercial database server, and Standard Subscriptions to RHEL only cover 9×5 business hours. You do not need RHEL Advanced Platform unless you plan to build a heavily virtualized server and want to run many RHEL instances on a machine or you have a box with lots of CPU sockets. The RHEL 5.5 license comes with a KVM or Xen hypervisor embedded in it for slicing up the server, so you don’t even need to buy the separate, standalone Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) implementation of KVM, which is really intended for supporting multiple operating systems on a single physical server.
To make this week’s comparisons, I took the same entry ProLiant machines from Hewlett-Packard and ripped out the Windows Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008, and VMware vSphere Advanced stack and replaced it with the RHEL 5.5 Standard operating system and the Postgres Plus Standard database. And as you might expect, this results in even lower costs per unit of work and per user than a Windows stack.
The reason is simple. Neither RHEL nor Postgres Plus have per-user fees. You buy RHEL for a server, you are done. You buy Postgres Plus for a socket, you are done. This, as I have been complaining for years, is not the case with the IBM i platform, which has a base license cost per core plus a $250 per user fee.
In this week’s patent-pending monster table showing Power Systems running IBM i versus Linux X64 systems, I have tweaked the estimated OLTP performance of the machines to be a little bit higher than for Windows-based machines, based on the Red Hat benchmark tests. The CPW ratings shown for the Linux boxes are not IBM-sanctified ratings, but rather my estimates as worked backwards from these TPC-C estimates. In the table, the machines are base configurations with the main memory and disk capacity shown, with a RAID 5 disk controller, a suitable tape drive, and the software shown. All prices are list price from the vendors with no discounting.
Here’s how the Power 720 with one or two 3 GHz Power7 cores running the IBM i operating system stacked up against the Linux-PostgreSQL alternative:
As was the case with Windows-X64 machines, a single-core Power 720 is absolutely competitive on a per-user basis, but once you add that second core and start adding users, the Linux machine starts getting a lot, lot cheaper. By the time you are up to 150 users on a two-core Power 720 box and a four-core ProLiant DL380 G6 server, the difference in price per user is almost four to one. That’s because it costs next to nothing to add incremental processor performance and hardly nothing to double up database licenses.
With the Power 750 with two or four Power7 cores running at 3 GHz or 3.3 GHz and supporting the IBM i platform, the comparisons are just ludicrous because IBM is charging way too much for the IBM license on this box. (I maintain that a two-core or four-core Power 750 is the most likely configuration to be acquired by companies that need something with more oomph than a Power 720, which is why I have been using this machine in my comparison.) Toss in the 5250 green screen interactive license on the IBM i box, and as you can see, the costs diverge greatly:
We’re talking about 10 times the cost per user for a certain amount of database oomph here.
No, Linux is not for everyone. No, the Power 720 is not too bad. But yes, moving out of the entry Power 720 and on up to faster or more capacious machines requires customers to make huge investments, while in the X64 world of two-socket boxes, machines in the same power class have super-low prices for adding incremental capacity. This is a radically different price model, and one that IBM’s Power Systems people have yet to reckon themselves to.
I have said this for a long time now: The IBM i platform is aimed at SMB customers, but it is priced like a high-end Unix box. This is a backward strategy and one that IBM has not really addressed for more than a decade. I am glad that the initial Power 720 is competitive with one core. Now, do the same thing for cores three through eight.