Power7 Is The End Of The Line For Power Blades
March 4, 2013 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If you were hoping to see Power7+ processors in blade servers later this year to build out your existing BladeCenter infrastructure, I have some bad news for you. As I had been suspecting with my newsy-sense (not as good as spidey sense, but it keeps me employed just as that sixth sense keeps Spiderman alive), IBM has no plans to put the shiny Power7+ processors into the existing PS700 through PS704 series of blade servers.
I had been guessing that Big Blue might cut off the BladeCenters with the Power7+ or Power8 generations, especially given the launch of the Flex System iron last April, which has substantial benefits over the BladeCenters and which is a baby being managed by the converged Software and Systems Group under Steve Mills. The Flex System iron and PureSystems configurations that are based on them are the technology that IBM wants to lead with at this point, excepting high-end Power Systems and System z mainframes, but over the long haul, I don’t even expect that to hold. I think that over the next several years, and perhaps with the Power8 generation of machines, that Big Blue will switch to a common server module across its Power, mainframe, and X86 servers and even allow for SMP and NUMA configurations to be created across the Flex backplane. There is no reason to have so many form factors if you have one that is working and is, as the name suggests, flexible. Such a transition would take many years, and IBM will continue to sell and support rack and tower machines for many, many years to come.
As for guessing that Power7+ blades might not make it, Steve Sibley, director of worldwide product management for IBM’s Power Systems division, said I guessed that right, and moreover, IBM had put out a statement of its plan to BladeCenter customers using Power-based blades. (I have not been able to get my hands on that yet.) But don’t think IBM is just walking away from these customers.
“We have extended the life out for people who want to continue to buy blades because they have a BladeCenter infrastructure, so we will keep supporting the Power7 blades much longer than normal,” Sibley explained.
I am trying to determine exactly what that extended support will be, but given that telecom and service providers were early adopters of BladeCenter iron–owing to the substantial integration, density, and management benefits of blades over rack servers–it stands to reason that it will be quite a long time indeed. Telcos think in decade-long infrastructure cycles.
IBM could have put the Power7+ processors into the existing PS7XX series of blades, given that they are socket-compatible with the Power7 chips. And that was clearly the plan at some point, as this internal IBM roadmap shows:
But that is not the issue. Something changed, and that something was the “Project Troy” Flex System iron, and IBM converging its software and systems divisions to take on the threat that Cisco Systems and others peddling converged infrastructure present. Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell all want to go up against IBM and Cisco peddling integrated boxes, and sticking to the Power blade roadmap is not as important as realizing it is a new market out there and things have changed. When the situation changes, you have to change your plan.
That said, I think that if you are a big adopter of Power-based blade servers, IBM could cook you up a few or hundreds using Power7+ chips if you were really eager for the performance or accelerator features in the new processors and wanted to keep your existing infrastructure. The thermals on the Power7+ chips would certainly allow this option.
The odds are that the absence of Power7+ blades won’t affect very many IBM i shops. IBM was very late getting Power-based blades to market using proper Power6 processors–it should have been able to do it back in 2002 with the original Power5 processors when the BladeCenter machines launched. But for a lot of complex reasons, IBM didn’t get Power blades out until years later, and even when it did, the company took a long time to get i5/OS and then IBM i supported on them and the support was a bit kludgey, forcing customers to use the Virtual I/O Server to attach peripherals, which was complex and had lots of performance issues.
The good news is that with the Project Troy machines, Power is a true peer to Xeon, and IBM i is a true peer to Windows, Linux, and AIX. And it stands to reason that the Flex Chassis form factor is going to be around for a long, long time.