IBM Discounts Let CPUs And Memory Go Mobile For Less
March 9, 2015 Timothy Prickett Morgan
We have been noting in recent issues of The Four Hundred that Big Blue’s sales and marketing people in the United States and Canada have been quiet on the wheeling and dealing front in recent months, which is a bit peculiar seeing as though you would think that IBM, having exited the X86 system business, would be doing everything in its power to help push new iron to its Power Systems and System z installed base. The Power8 machines have been in the field since last year, and many of the customers and resellers we talk to say a Power7 or Power7+ system is good enough to do the IBM i jobs they have. This is a sure sign to me that IBM needs to sweeten the pot a little bit to close some deals.
There are ways to do this rather than just to cut the price on shiny new hardware, and IBM is usually pretty good at crafting deals that give customers an incentive to move in a particular direction to get a better overall deal. The long-running Solution Edition promotion is a good example of this, and so is the discount plan that IBM has been running for as long as I can remember that gives certain rebates to customers moving from vintage AS/400, iSeries, and System i machines (or Unix and X86 systems) to modern Power System iron. IBM has just announced a new–and short-lived–deal that aims to encourage customers to give the capacity on demand features in the top-end Power Systems machines a whirl.
Machines based on the Power architecture, like their peers in the RISC enterprise server space, have had advanced features in virtualization and capacity on demand well ahead of their competitors in the X86 server space. In some cases, like with virtualization and multithreading, X86 processors have closed the feature gap to a certain extent, but with other features, such as hot plug memory or capacity on demand, the X86 platform still lags. One reason for this lagging in features, perhaps, is that the X86 chips are aimed at the high volume parts of the market where applications tend to run across distributed systems and high availability is built into the software at the application level, not a feature of redundancy or flexibility in the hardware. But for mission critical applications, often where the back-end database and application servers are running on a single machine or perhaps a high availability pair, the high availability is often in the hardware. And that means anything that might cause the hardware to go down–such as hardware maintenance or a system upgrade–is a problem. If the cores and operating systems and main memory tied to the machines were not so expensive, having redundant systems might be more common, so much so that companies might not need capacity on demand at all.
This is why IBM tweaked its capacity on demand features to allow for the fluid movement of CPU core activations and their related memory activations across machines in a single customer’s datacenter. IBM doesn’t offer these mobile activation features for free, of course, although considering that such capabilities are inherent in the hardware and microcode of the largest Power7+ and Power8+ systems, you might think IBM would just toss them in as a benefit, not yet another thing that customers have to burn budget for. In any event, in announcement letter ZAAM5247A, IBM is offering some pretty substantial discounts on the mobile activations for cores and memory–the memory activations and several of the processor activations are being discounted by 40 percent and a few of the processor activations are seeing 52 percent cuts–and this will no doubt be a lever with which IBM hopes to promote the Power Systems enterprise pooling that was announced with high-end Power 770+ and Power 780+ machines and with the new Power E870 and Power E880 machines that came out last fall. The discounts are as follows:
These discounts for mobile core and mobile memory activations are only available in the United States and Canada as far as I know, but as we always point out, there is no good reason why any customer anywhere on the globe should not be getting the same deal when it comes to discounts and promotions. There is nothing unique about any geography when it comes to the need to help promote the Power Systems platform in any way possible. This particular deal is only running from March 5 through June 23, and customers only have until June 30 to do the processor or memory activations. This is significant because IBM’s second quarter ends in June and to be able to book a sale, IBM has to ship a product. Activating a mobile core or mobile memory chunk counts as shipping it, so this promotion will help boost the sales of Power Systems iron during the second quarter. Provided it is effective, of course. And there will be a few weeks of sales relating to this promotion at the tail end of the first quarter, too, which will also help.
Customers participating in this deal have to turn on at least four cores in the machine with mobile activations.
As I said above, capacity on demand is one of those features in enterprise-class systems that basically exists because the machine is so expensive and priced and packaged in such a manner that you cannot activate it all at once. No one can buy a big mainframe or Power Systems machine with all of its capacity activated unless they really need all of that capacity. IBM and its peers in the high-end server business want to create a scare and profitable resource because it suits their needs, and mobile activations above keep the prices of components high while still giving customers flexibility. Considering how expensive entry and midrange Power Systems are, perhaps IBM could do one of two things: make mobile activations and capacity upgrade on demand available on all Power Systems or just cut the prices so much that everyone will buy a fully activated machine and start loading up the work on it. But like I said, IBM wants to create a scare and profitable resource instead of a giant pool of cheap compute that is ubiquitous across the enterprise. You only hit what you aim at, of course, and there is a reason why after 22 years the X86 architecture has taken over the datacenter and IBM has been pushed up into the high end and down into the proprietary midrange where most customers have relatively modest workloads. The good news is that through the OpenPower Foundation, IBM is working with partners to make a broader ecosystem of Power server partners to better compete with X86 iron. Thus far, that effort is focused solely on Linux-based machines and AIX and IBM i are not going to benefit directly from those efforts. At least. Not until we all make a fuss.