Observing i: An IBM Power Systems Champion Perspective
March 28, 2016 Dan Burger
Pete Massiello is an IBM i advocate, a past president of COMMON the world’s largest IBM i user group, and owner and CEO of a consultancy that specializes in system upgrades, performance tuning, and hosted services. The IBM midrange is his bread and butter. Massiello recently wrote a report he calls IBM i State of the Union, a perspective on the landscape based on what he has seen and what he expects to see.
If Massiello was limited to five words to describe his report, they would be: Do not dismiss this platform. He acknowledges that companies are migrating from IBM i. But that’s not the end story. It’s not the final chapter or anything even close.
We had a conversation with him recently and he shared a few of his views specifically on Power Systems hardware and managed services. His report also includes topics that support the future readiness of the platform such as the long-term IBM i roadmap, system modernization, and the expanding role of open source technologies. The full report can be downloaded via this link.
IT Jungle has reported on the growth of Power Systems from IBM’s quarterly financial reports, which, in January, showed four consecutive quarters of revenue growth. An increase in Power8 system upgrades at both the entry and enterprise levels are positive signs.
Massiello says smaller IBM i shops, in particular, are “jumping on the new boxes and seeing phenomenal performance improvements.” In the past, he says, hardware upgrades brought performance boosts thanks to more memory and more CPW oomph from faster and more capacious processors. That’s true again with Power8, but disk I/O shows a substantial improvement, too, with the latest systems.
The past year of Power Systems revenue increases is in line with IBM i shops upgrading to 7.1 and 7.2, which are supported on the latest Power8 hardware as well as on earlier iron.
“When they [IBM i shops] buy a Power8, they know 7.2 is going to run on it. They know iNext [unofficially IBM i 7.3 based on some pretty obvious hints from Steve Will] is going to run on it. And they know the release after iNext will run on it,” Massiello says. “Shops on three-year leases, which is common for the shops I talk with, are looking at new boxes. The pool of shops that can run Power8 has gotten bigger.”
That’s true, but at the same time Massiello notes the price of hardware has declined and server consolidation continues to have an impact, so for IBM to make additional revenue with Power Systems hasn’t been easy. And it’s also fair to say the revenue increases have been small.
Richard Martinez, a business executive for IBM Power at Avnet, one of IBM’s biggest business distributors of servers and storage, says Power System revenue is up 25 percent in the sales channel. “This is the longest running growth period that the channel has seen in decades on this platform,” Martinez says.
In an interview with IT Jungle a month ago, Martinez pointed to IBM business partners getting into the managed service provider (MSP) business–a substantial investment–as one of the explanations for Power Systems revenue growth.
“Our MSP business is growing,” Massiello says with regard to his company, “but I would say the MSP business is driving down Power Systems revenue. Where eight or nine customers, for instance, were formerly buying machines, now a single customer (the MSP) is buying and the eight or nine customers are replicating to that single machine at an MSP datacenter. The MSP does, however, sell multiple licenses,” he allows.
Returning to the point Massiello made earlier about the notable disk I/O performance gains with Power8 iron, he anticipates substantial growth in the use of solid state disk drives. Describing the performance difference between spinning disk and solid state disk, he calls it “astronomical.” Even in the smallest P05 Power8 boxes can accommodate solid state disks, he notes.
“When the batch job that used to run 20 minutes now runs one or two minutes, that’s a helluva difference,” he says. “For some companies, the SSDs are the difference between running sales numbers once a day or running them several times each day. This is particularly valuable at the end of the month when a company may want to move certain items.”
Cost is still a deterrent, but the differential between spinning disk and solid state disk is shrinking.
“We’ve had customers that have both SSD and spinning disks and when we looked at the number of arms needed, and the number of arms that drove disk drawers, and the number of disk drawers that drove controllers, we found it was cheaper to use SSD, which reduced the other pieces of hardware. We’ve known for a long time that companies solve performance problems by buying more arms. Machines with SSDs don’t necessarily need all the disk arms because they are so quick.”
All of the above fits neatly within Massiello’s message of staying current with IBM i technologies and that much of the disrespect that gets heaped on the platform is because of companies that fall behind and struggle with old systems, aged applications, and skills that need to be updated. There’s a reason he’s on the list of IBM Power System Champions.