IBM Gearing Up For October Power Announcements
September 21, 2015 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The word on the street is that Big Blue is getting ready to make some announcements for the Power Systems platform in October, so brace yourself for more stuff. We are not sure exactly what IBM is gearing up to do, but we have heard some rumblings that will affect the IBM i customer base tangentially and perhaps, if we have our way, directly.
IBM likes to tie announcements to specific events, and personally, I would like for the new hardware, software, and services to be launched at the Power Systems and System Storage Technical University in Cannes, France, which will be held from October 26 through 30. And while we are at it, I would like to have a first class seat on a Delta flight to the event and an Airbnb apartment on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean city and have a little sun and fun while I am at it.
My guess, however, is that IBM will make whatever Power Systems announcements it has up its sleeve at the IBM Systems Technical University, which covers System z and Power Systems servers and the System Storage product lines and which is being hosted in Orlando, Florida from October 5 through 9. I don’t like Orlando anywhere near as much as Cannes–although I have only been to Orlando and I have never been to Cannes. But, I would fly to Orlando for a good story, even in coach seating where I belong, and would do so happily for several good stories, should the occasion arise. But my guess is that I will be able to tell you all about what IBM is doing without having to travel to Florida at the tail end of summer and the beginning of hurricane season.
That said, IBM, feel free to send me all the presentations and transcripts from both events. I am sure I could learn a lot. As you can see from the abstracts for the Technical University, there are plenty of sessions on IBM i and AIX, which shows that IBM is not completely and thoroughly obsessed with Linux.
As for the announcements, I expect that IBM will be showing off new server adapters and switching, since 100 Gb/sec Ethernet is ramping now and is aimed at some of the same scale out customers that the company is trying to attract with the entry Power8 servers. I am not so sure how relevant this is to IBM i shops. There stands to reason that IBM will also refresh its flash storage lineup for Power Systems, since denser flash is now available. New disks could come out, too, but how relevant these are is debatable. Anything that lowers the cost of cold, warm, and hot data is a good thing, of course. I don’t expect IBM to lower the price of main memory on Power Systems, but that would be a nice gesture. I also certainly do not expect to see Power8+ processors, which IBM has said very little about except to supercomputer customers, who anticipate them coming next year, sporting an interconnect technology called NVLink that will allow Power8+ chips to be tightly coupled with “Pascal” GP100 Tesla GPU coprocessor cards.
What I do expect, however, is that IBM will pick up some of the Power8 system designs from its OpenPower Foundation partners and adapt them from their hyperscale uses for more mainstream customers. This is the rumor I have heard, although I will admit that the details are a bit skinny. Making such machines enterprise-grade probably means more than painting them black, slapping a green bar and an IBM label on them, and adding a Software Maintenance and Hardware Maintenance support contract to them. But then again, maybe not. I am not at all sure who is making IBM’s Power Systems these days, and for all we know it has been completely outsourced. This would not surprise me at all. Cisco Systems has never made its own servers (contract manufacturer Jabil Circuit does), and Foxconn is making Hewlett-Packard servers out in the open now for hyperscalers and has been making HP machines for years. SCI-Sanmina made IBM X86 machines for many years, too. This is the way of the world.
I have said this before and I will say it again: If IBM and its OpenPower Foundation partners create innovative hardware designs aimed at Linux-on-Power customers, with their new microcode and PowerKVM hypervisor, then IBM i and AIX customers should be able to benefit from what I presume will be a lot lower cost iron. This would require one of two things. Either IBM has to port the PowerVM hypervisor, which runs on all IBM Power Systems, to the OpenPower iron, or it has to make IBM i and AIX run on bare metal iron like the latest little-endian Linuxes do. Whether you know it or not, PowerVM is always running on a Power Systems machine, whether you have a single instance of the operating system or multiple ones running in logical partitions. I am not even sure if the modern releases of IBM i and AIX can run on bare metal as they used to a decade ago. But that capability would come in pretty handy right now as OpenPower Foundation iron is starting to come to market.
It is really simple for me. If IBM is doing something for Linux, it should be doing it for IBM i and Linux. Period. We are all one big Power Systems family, right? And we have learned so many lessons about what happens to revenue and market share when you treat one platform a lot better than the other? IBM won the Unix war against Sun Microsystems and HP, and lost more than half of its AS/400 business because of the excessively high prices that OS/400 shops paid for hardware and software compared to AIX customers. And now, IBM is giving Linux preferential treatment at the literal expense of AIX and IBM i shops. This is short-term, quarterly thinking. Every customer is 10 times easier to keep happy than to replace with a new customer. This is the fact of business. In the case of IBM i and AIX shops, when they leave, they ain’t a-coming back and every single one of them is more precious than a fickle Linux shop.