PureSystems Base Busts Through 10,000 Installations
February 3, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
There may have been some uncertainty about the future of IBM‘s X86-based server business throughout 2013, but customers wanting converged systems, which bring servers, storage, networking, and a unified management framework all together, took it in stride. The PureSystems installations have continued a-pace, says Big Blue.
To be specific, the installed base of PureSystems iron numbered more than 10,000 units as 2013 came to a close, which is up from the more than 8,000 units that IBM had at the end of the third quarter of last year. I also got some much-needed clarification on what, precisely, IBM is counting when it talks about installations.
In the past, depending on who I asked, I was told that the numbers that IBM was counting for PureSystems was the number of unique system configurations that had been sold. This could be setups with one or more racks and multiple FlexSystem chassis enclosures for server nodes and disk arrays. Others have suggested that IBM was counting racks. In fact, explains Pete McCaffrey, who is director of PureSystems at IBM, what IBM is counting is the number of FlexSystem enclosures in a PureFlex (base infrastructure) or PureApplication (infrastructure plus applications) setup. The PureData appliances are just rebranded Netezza parallel database appliances that are still based on the BladeCenter blade server or Hadoop clusters based on X86 server nodes. I am not sure what IBM is counting there, to be honest. But let’s assume enclosures as well.
So across those 10,000 units, there should be something on the order of 70,000 to 140,000 server nodes, depending on how many nodes customers are cramming into each 10U enclosure–and what type. Some nodes are single-wide and fourteen nodes fit in the enclosure. The double-wide nodes take up two horizontal server bays, so you can only get seven of them in the FlexSystem chassis.
For the past year, the PureSystems family has accounted for around 2,000 installations per quarter, which is a steady rate. If you look at IDC converged systems sales, which counts revenues not boxes and includes everything in the converged system, then IBM is growing a lot faster than the market at large. The latest data available from IDC is only for the third quarter, and here is how it looks:
IDC reckons that across all vendors of converged infrastructure, and including the platform-level software bundled on such machines, generated $1.38 billion in revenues. Of this, $339.8 million was for platform-level converged systems, like IBM’s PureApplication and PureData machines, while the remaining $983.9 million was for plain vanilla converged infrastructure setups, like IBM’s PureFlex machines. The market for raw converged infrastructure more than doubled, year-on-year, and is dominated by Cisco Systems and its various partners. Cisco is the main server inside of the VCE vBlock partnership as well as the FlexPod partnership it has with disk array maker NetApp. Cisco also does direct sales of its own machines into large accounts, and presumably those sales are in the Others category in IDC’s data. The rise of EMC as a supplier is a bit of a surprise, given that it was presumably pushing sales through the VCE partnership, but it looks like the disk maker is doing more of its own deals, presumably again with Cisco’s Unified Computing System iron. (I will get to the bottom of this and let you know what is going on.) What I can tell you is that as far as IDC is concerned, all of Oracle’s converged system sales are for integrated platforms with systems software on top of them and Oracle has nearly half of this market at 45.6 percent share. The other interesting bit is that this integrated platform slice of the market was only growing at 14.2 percent in the third quarter.
McCaffrey was not able to give me a shipment or revenue breakdown of PureFlex versus PureApplication versus PureData, but he did give me some color on what is driving sales. When IBM launched the FlexSystem and the Pure strategy back in April 2012, the company was betting that infrastructure and application consolidation would be the main driving force for sales for PureApplication setups. But, as it turns out, a lot of these machines are going into corners of data centers to support greenfield applications at companies, including virtual desktop infrastructure, e-commerce, application development and code management (known as DevOps in the modern lingo), and analytics.
For PureFlex setups, hybrid Power and X86 iron started taking off in the second half of 2013, according to McCaffrey. And, of course, managed service providers building public clouds and companies building private clouds are two big drivers of sales of PureFlex setups around the globe. To date, IBM has over 2,200 business partners that have earned over 9,200 PureSystems certifications, and 340 partners have created 520 application patterns to automate the installation and operation of their applications. IBM has over 350 customer references who are willing to go public with what they are doing across those 10,000 chassis installations. That has to be some kind of record, and my guess is that IBM is sweetening PureSystems deals with discounts if customers open up and tell their stories. IBM wants to create a social media wave for these machines, much as SAP did way back in the early 1990s with its R/3 ERP stack.