New Power Systems VP Talks IBM i Strategy, Roadmaps
February 21, 2011 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It’s another year, and now there is another executive who has taken charge of the Power Systems lineup and there is an updated IBM i Strategy and Roadmap. As The Four Hundred reported last year in the wake of the consolidation of Software Group and Systems and Technology Group under Steve Mills, Tom Rosamilia was tapped to run a converged System z and Power Systems server unit. But IBM still wants an executive that is responsible for the Power Systems line, and that is Colin Parris, vice president and business line manager for that unit.
Parris was formerly in charge of systems software development at Systems and Technology Group, which is still thought of as functionally distinct from Software Group in some ways, including budgets for development and marketing, as well as the way that Big Blue reports its financials to Wall Street. Ditto for the Power Systems division of STG, which is still talked about as a distinct portion of STG by the company.
The 2011 edition of the IBM i Strategy and Roadmap, which you can download here, was slapped up on the Power Systems-IBM i section of the company’s Web site sometime last week but backdated for February 1, and the company didn’t make a lot of noise about it. IBM’s PR machine is focused on its centennial celebration and the Watson Jeopardy!-playing supercomputer at the moment, which is why you need newsletters like The Four Hundred to tell you what is actually going on in the OS/400 and i marketplace.
The open letter from Parris to the IBM i client base talks about the 2010 announcements of Power7-based systems and the IBM i 7.1 operating system, both of which were delivered with input from customer councils and user groups.
“You will find that our commitment to our IBM i clients, ISVs, and business partners is solid and unchanged,” Parris wrote in his open letter. “With our clearly defined processor and software roadmap, we are making substantial investments in the future of IBM i as an important, strategic element in the IBM systems portfolio. Thanks for your business and your confidence in the future of one of the world’s most durable and productive platforms for business.”
The current IBM i roadmap talks about how the RS/6000 and AS/400 product lines have been gradually converged over the years, and I find it amusing that the way it is written it makes it sound like the RS/6000s and AS/400s were not basically the same machines in 1997. They were, with some minor differences in I/O and systems software. I was there at the time, and I remember how much Big Blue was annoyed each and every time I pointed out that AS/400 customers were being radically overcharged for systems, processors, memory, disks, and other components that were absolutely identical to those of RS/6000 customers, which were offered much lower prices. AS/400 shops were overcharged on hardware, at prices that were not competitive compared to Windows and Unix products, to fund IBM’s expansion in the Unix business. IBM gained a big chunk of the Unix biz, but it lost a lot of its AS/400 biz from these practices. And the latter was a customer set that was loyal to IBM and their RPG and COBOL applications, while the former was mostly loyal to the idea of open systems that allowed them to move their Oracle databases and C and Java applications from box to box with something approximating ease.
You, AS/400 customers, paid for IBM’s Unix market share and let it slash AIX hardware costs by 50 percent off list price (or more) for years; and that was after IBM charged less for RS/6000 hardware than it did for AS/400 hardware. I know it, you know it, IBM knows it. But don’t ever expect IBM to admit that or send you a Thank You note.
The 2011 edition of the strategy and roadmap document recounts the statistic that IBM i “is used by 100,000s of companies in over 115 countries around the world,” a number that, as I discussed in The Hundred Thousand Plus on the Four Hundred, is vague and suspect. The document also talks about the 2,500 IBM independent software developers and their portfolio of 5,000 applications, which are numbers that we have all heard before.
There is some new data in the strategy and roadmap document this time around. IBM says that about 70 percent of IBM i shops are small and mid-sized companies, with the remaining 30 percent being large enterprises with over 1,000 employees. We also learn that 80 percent of sales of IBM i-based platforms in 2010 were in North America, Western Europe, and Japan, and that the platform has made a good showing in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the ASEAN region. China, which IBM says is dominated by Unix servers (I am pretty sure I don’t believe that) nonetheless is fond of the IBM i platform in the banking and financial services sector. (I would guess that hotel and entertainment do well, too.) Finally, about 85 percent of the shipments for Power Systems machines where IBM i was the dominant or only operating system were for old Power 520 and new Power 720 machines. The latter only started shipping in August, so a lot of that was Power 520s. Among large enterprises, the Power 770 and Power 795 seem to be the preferred platforms.
Now, let’s talk about the 2011 IBM i roadmaps, starting with hardware:
That’s not a lot of detail for the future, now is it? But you know now that Power8 is on the map. The eight-core Power7 chips (and the partially dudded four-core and six-core variants) are based on IBM’s copper/SOI processes using 45 nanometer wires. If there is a Power7+ chip, it would probably just be a shrink to 32 or 28 nanometers, allowing for anywhere from a 25 to 40 percent boost in clock speed if Big Blue keeps the design the same. Power8 could be implemented in either 28 or 22 nanometer technologies, and it should come into the field sometime in 2013 or so, and that further shrink could be used to add about twice as many transistors to the chip, putting lots more features on the chip. From a thermal perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use the 28 to 22 nanometer shrink solely for clock speed increases, since DDR3 main memory cannot keep pace. (And there is no reason to believe that DDR4 or whatever memory technology IBM comes up will, either.)
Don’t get confused by this paragraph in the 2011 document:
“The next generation of Power Systems will continue to deliver more performance per processor, along with expanded consolidation capability with up to 1,000 virtual machines per system, and improved energy efficiency with 2X to 3X performance in the same energy envelope.”
IBM did not mean to promise that Power8-based machines would do this. This is what Power7 machines did compared to Power6 boxes, and this paragraph, which is word-for-word from the 2010 document, should have been edited to reflect the fact that Big Blue already did that performance bump. (I will discuss what I think IBM might be doing with Power8 in a future story in The Four Hundred.)
Now let’s talk about software roadmaps. Here is a new and grainy version of the roadmap for the IBM i operating system:
As you can see, IBM plans to put out three sub-releases in 2011, and I think the first one was the set of PTFs that were rolled up to provide support for the new encryption co-processors and the new Web Enablement stack for i 7.1 that I told you about in last week’s issue. This is not a particularly precise IBM i roadmap. This one, from somewhere around November 2009 that I got my hands on in early 2010 ahead of the first Power7 server launch, had better detail. But it may not be accurate any more:
IBM says in the 2011 strategy and roadmap document that it is working on the next release of IBM i, and when the company says release, I think it means what you and I would call version. But maybe not because the RS/6000 people that control Power Systems don’t think in terms of Vs and Rs when talking about what we would normally call OS/400 V7R2 or OS/400 V8R1. This next “release,” which I think refers to IBM i 8.1, will:
In Power Systems Land, it is called a logical partition or LPAR, not a virtual machine. The LPAR image management and live migration mobility features are already in AIX and the PowerVM hypervisor and have been since AIX 6.1. These features should have been added to OS/400-i well ahead of AIX, or at least at the same time. I talked to IBM about this back in November 2007, and it was on the wish list then and then was quickly dropped off.
None of these other features strike me as earth shattering, and that is not a slam. Once virtualization came to all operating systems, the pace of development has radically slowed for all platforms. Windows Server 2008 R2 is not that different from its predecessor. Solaris and HP-UX are moving at a snail’s pace, and so is AIX while I am thinking about it. It is the nature of things. The issues that are affecting IT are further up the stack–a place where an integrated machine like what I still call an AS/400 should reign supreme.
One interesting bit in the 2011 strategy and roadmap document is an updated support roadmap for OS/400, i5/OS, and IBM i releases that includes this future “release.” Take a gander at it:
If this chart is drawn to scale, then support for i5/OS V5R4 is slated for around August 2012, which means the company will make an announcement about this in the summer of this year. Extended support–what IBM calls Program Support Extension–for i5/OS V5R4 will no doubt be available, for an incremental fee, to customers on Software Maintenance and for around three years beyond that, if history is any guide.