Rumors Say Power8 Systems Debut Sooner Rather Than Later
March 10, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
With the Power Systems division in a secular revenue decline, as Wall Street calls such things, following down the Unix market and Intel having completely revamped its Xeon E5 and E7 chips with “Ivy Bridge” updates, IBM can’t afford to wait a day longer than necessary to get the Power8 processors into the field to counter the push that the Intel marketing machine will bring to bear on Unix and proprietary platforms. So it is not a surprise, then, that the word on the street is that the Power8 chip will appear in machines sooner rather than later this year.
Thus far, executives in the Power Systems division have merely said to expect Power8-based machines to be launched sometime around the middle of the year. The 12-core Power8 chips were in the labs and being tested last summer running various operating systems, and as I reported over at my other job at EnterpriseTech a few weeks ago, search engine giant Google, which is also a member of the OpenPower Consortium, has Power8-based systems running in its test labs right now, ones that they in fact designed. It stands to reason that a select number of customers–IBM tends to go with a few hundred–have had similar test systems from Big Blue running for some time as well.
Events are starting to pop up here and there referring to the new systems. For instance, IBM hosted an event in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 18 called Harness The Power, which discussed “Traditional AIX and IBM i Series Solutions” in addition to PowerLinux and “Open Stack Consortium.” I am pretty sure that they meant to say OpenPower Consortium there, but no matter. The important thing is that IBM was meeting with customers and partners to talk about planned features and enhancements for the Power Systems line and the “accelerating collaboration with IBM Software” this year. If IBM is talking, we suspect that the launch is getting close.
IBM has, of course, been discussing the feeds and speeds of the Power8 processor since last August, when it first started talking about the forthcoming chip at the Hot Chips convention at Stanford University and outlined its salient features. IBM lifted the veil a tiny bit more in January at the International Solid-State Chip Conference in San Jose, another gathering of chipheads who like to show off their work. (Thank heavens or this industry would be so much more boring.)
We also note that there are two Redbook Residencies that run from March 24 through April 4 in Austin, Texas. The first is to produce several technical overview papers relating to the “Power Systems 2014 New Servers,” as the abstract puts it. The applicants for the residency need “English, American, or Texan Spoken” and have to know IBM’s style of technical writing, which is arguably a fourth dialect. The second residency, which you can see here, is focused on the enhancements to the Power Systems operating systems, the Hardware Management Console, and adapter virtualization on the new Power8 systems. Again, Texan is an acceptable dialect for spoken language.
The chatter on the street is that we can expect some kind of Power8 system launch at the end of April and that IBM i 7.2, the next release of the operating system, will launch in early May. This makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, IBM is hosting its Impact 2014 conference in Las Vegas from April 27 through May 1. This is an event focused on System z, PureSystems, and industry verticals, so it is not a perfect fit for a Power Systems launch, but there is a stage that executives can stand on and weave a Power8 marketing story around before the second quarter closes. Moreover the annual COMMON user group and expo meeting runs from May 4 through 7 down in Orlando, Florida, and this is the obvious place to launch IBM i 7.2 and also show off some new Power8 iron.
At the moment, the rumor mill has no idea what Power8 machines IBM is preparing–entry, midrange, enterprise, or high-end–and it is too hard to guess at this point because it depends on how many chips IBM can make, and of what kind. IBM generally does not start at the high-end, but Power 795 machines are getting a little long in the tooth given that they date from 2010. If IBM wants to sell against Intel, it needs to launch both entry and midrange machines pronto. That much I can tell you. And if you are buying a machine ranging from a Power 710+ up through a Power 760+ right now, my advice is for you to get a non-disclosure to see what the Power8 machines will look like and get some sense of the pricing before you close your Power7+ deal. If you can’t get that, then at least demand a decent discount on the Power7+ machine.
I will let you know more as I learn more.