Little Linux Pricing On Big Power Systems Iron
October 14, 2013 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In case you haven’t noticed, IBM thinks that getting customers to put their Linux workloads onto Power Systems is going to reverse the sales decline for the platform. That decline has more to do with all flavors of Unix falling out of favor compared to Windows and Linux in the data centers of the world with the exception of very large workloads, usually databases, and the relatively high prices that Unix system vendors charge for their iron.
In a way, Unix is the new proprietary platform and Linux is the lower-priced upstart, echoing the situation when Unix first became tame enough to enter the data center back in the late 1980s. Linux has also grown up, has many thousands of commercial applications, and untold tens of thousands to perhaps hundreds of thousands of homegrown applications. Almost all new analytics applications run on Linux, as do most databases and application servers.
As new Power Systems general manager Doug Balog hinted in last week’s issue, the company has indeed come to the conclusion that it should mimic the Linux strategy on its mainframes and offer cheaper capacity for engines on high-end Power Systems if they are allocated to run Linux.
Rather than make an entire PowerLinux-style high-end system that is incapable of booting either IBM i or AIX, as IBM has done with the OpenPower machines from the mid-2000s and the PowerLinux machines that came out last year, for the large machines IBM is allowing for AIX and IBM i to be mixed on the same machines in with lower-priced Linux engines. As you can see in announcement letter 113-178, the new Linux motors are called the Power Integrated Facility for Linux. This facility, as IBM calls it, consists of four core activations on the high-end Power system plus 32 GB of memory activations; it also includes four licenses to the PowerVM for Linux edition of IBM’s Power Systems virtualization hypervisor, which is already a discounted version of the high-end PowerVM Enterprise Edition hypervisor. The cheaper Linux engines are available on Power 770, Power 780, and Power 795 systems using Power7 processors as well as on Power 770+ and Power 780+ machines using Power7+ chips. Because the offering relies on capacity upgrade on demand features, it is not available on smaller Power Systems machines. (Although I suspect IBM could do something there if it really wanted to.) The Power IFL is available on any machine installed in the field as well as new machines.
Even though the pricing for memory and processing capacity is not uniform on these five different machines, IBM has decided to keep it simple and charge a uniform amount for a block of four cores and 32 GB of memory with PowerVM running on it. And that price is $8,591. Steve Sibley, director of worldwide product management for IBM’s Power Systems, says that this price represents something on the order of a 75 percent price cut for that raw capacity and main memory. He adds that the hardware maintenance for those Power IFLs will be discounted as well, but did not have the price difference as The Four Hundred went to press.
Just for the sake of comparison, the System z Integrated Facility for Linux is just a cut-priced core on the machine, which sells for around $80,000 instead of something on the order of $400,000 for a mainframe core that can run IBM’s z/OS, z/VSE, or z/VM operating systems. Those are the rumored prices for System z engines and IFLs; IBM does not publish list prices for mainframes publicly, and I will be the first to admit that the whisper numbers I have are a bit out of date.
The important comparisons, however, are what this Power IFL processor and memory capacity costs compared to the PowerLinux 7R4 machines, which have pretty dramatically lowered CPU, memory, and disk costs. Sibley says it is on the order of 20 to 25 percent premium for that Power IFL capacity compared to a similar chunk of compute and memory on the PowerLinux 7R4. And the pricing is absolutely designed to be competitive with a four-core, 32 GB block on a Xeon E5 or Xeon E7 machine. (I would like to do the math on that one to be sure, myself. And I will.)
While I would like to have seen a Power Integrated Facility for IBM i, and have asked for such for many years to help bolster sales of the IBM i platform, I don’t think we will see this any time soon. IBM needs to charge higher prices for IBM i and AIX capacity so it can afford to compete with the Power-Linux combo against the Xeon onslaught. IBM did the same thing a decade and a half ago by charging a lot more for Power hardware when it ran OS/400 than when it ran AIX. And that strategy succeeded, in a way. IBM competed savagely against Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle) and Hewlett-Packard in Unix because it had revenues and profits from the OS/400 base to fill in the gap. But, the high pricing for the green-screen software tax (remember that?) also drove something on the order of 125,000 customers out of the OS/400 fold in the ensuing 15 years, which is nearly half the installed base.
Hopefully, this time around, IBM won’t drive even more IBM i and AIX customers from the fold because it wants to cut a good deal for Linux shops. Only time will tell.
The Power Integrated Facility for Linux will be available on November 5.