IBM Prepping For October Power Systems Push
October 3, 2016 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It is officially the autumn now, and that usually means Power Systems hardware and software announcements from IBM. IBM is not going to refresh its commercial Power Systems line with Power8+ processors this year, as it might have done with the strategy from years past, but as we pointed out a few weeks ago, there is a Power8 chip with integrated NVLink ports aimed at hybrid supercomputers.
An aside: Europeans say “autumn” because it sounds less severe that “fall,” a reference to deciduous forests losing their leaves I presume, but autumn only came into English usage from Latin by way of Italian in the 16th century. And before then, the English called the season “harvest.” This is a better metaphor, perhaps, although I want to customers to be doing the harvesting of compute capacity, not IBM harvesting the IBM i customer base.
Just because there is no Power8+ chip driving a system refresh does not mean Big Blue does not want to tweak the Power Systems lineup and also tweak its pricing as well as wheel and deal to try to get more of its existing customer base to move to its Power8 systems and customers running on other platforms–predominately systems based on Intel‘s Xeon E5 and E7 processors–to switch to Power iron running Linux. For the IBM i ecosystem, we think that there is always a trickle of customers who are moving off mainframes and other proprietary platforms, but for the most part system sales are to customers who have long used IBM i and its predecessors to run their most critical workloads.
Getting these customers to move ahead is paramount, and we hear rumors that IBM is indeed getting ready to offer some incentives for customers to move up to shiny new Power8 iron and now wait until Power9 systems are available, most likely in the second half of 2017 and not very likely to be any time soon. The offers, which we still don’t know the details of as yet, coincide with the announcement two weeks ago of the Power Systems Enterprise Cloud systems, which we cover in detail elsewhere in this issue of The Four Hundred and, if the rumors are right, will actually include a four-socket Power E850 quad-socket server that has a faster chip and price changes that yield the kind of price/performance improvement we might expect had IBM put a Power8+ chip into the field this year.
It is perhaps significant that the tweaked Power E850 system will be announced only two weeks after Extended Support for IBM i 5.4 (also known as i5/OS V5R4) ran out on September 30. This was also the same date that the IBM i License Transfer Promo, which we told you about back in May, expires. IBM charges a $5,000 per core fee to move an IBM i license from an old machine to a new one, and under this deal, IBM waived that fee. IBM also waived After License fees, which can be substantial, for customers who had dropped its Software Maintenance services for the IBM i platform but wanted to get current again. We think IBM should probably extended these deals, unless it has something more clever up its sleeve to get more customers current.
It is hard to say how much of a price/performance improvement customers should expect this October, but it should be substantial given that entry Power8 systems first came out in April 2014 and the midrange Power E850 machine was launched way back in May 2015. It has been a long time since the entry and midrange has been refreshed, at least compared to the cadence of the Intel Xeon E5 and E7 platforms.
We don’t know the precise nature of the deals IBM is cooking up, but if history is any guide, there will be trade-in deals that give customers credits or rebates if they ditch old gear for Power8 systems. IBM could also give price breaks on base systems, processor and memory activations, and IBM i and adjunct software licensing activations. We think a mix of all of the above is probably necessary, especially if IBM has a lot of Power8 systems in the barn capturing dust and not the imaginations of IBM i customers. For the IBM i customer base, IBM really needs to do something for its single-socket Power S814 machine, which provides plenty enough compute, memory, I/O, and storage for them. They don’t need a two-socket Power S824, much less a Power E850. So it is important that the deals not just be given on the Power E850.
It is no secret that IBM will be doing Technology Refresh updates in the fall, autumn, harvest, or that space between the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Several years ago, Big Blue shifted to the cadence of April-October system software updates that was first established by the community behind the OpenStack cloud controller and then phased into by the commercial Linux distributors Red Hat, SUSE Linux, Canonical, and others.
We don’t know precisely what will be in the Technology Refreshes for IBM i 7.2 and 7.3, but it is pretty clear that enhancements to the RPG compiler and the DB2 for i database are almost always part of a Technology Refresh. We have already heard that there will be significant tweaks to the PowerHA clustering software, and we have already covered enhancements to Rational Developer for i and IBM i Access Client Solutions. There will no doubt be a lot more software stuff than hardware stuff, at least until next year. With the Power9, the hardware gets real interesting.