The Deal The Power 850C Implies For IBM i Shops
October 11, 2016 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As we have been hearing on the grapevine, IBM is indeed going to put out a cloudy, revved up version of its four-socket Power Systems machine, the Power E850C. This system actually features a faster–and hotter–Power8 processor, which gives the machine a little more oomph so it can better compete against systems based on Intel’s Xeon E5-4600 and Xeon E7-4800 motors. This machine also represent the entry level of the C-style cloudy systems that IBM has cooked up, which sport OpenStack cloud controllers and PowerVM hypervisors for building private clouds.
But like the Power E850 predecessor that Big Blue first debuted in May 2015, the new Power E850C machine does not support the IBM i operating system. And like a lot of you, I keep forgetting this is the case because it is so unusual to have a core midrange product, as the Power E850 and Power E850C clearly are, that does not support the flagship midrange commercial operating system from IBM, namely the IBM i platform.
Not that the machine cannot support the IBM i operating system and its integrated database. These are both certified to run atop the PowerVM hypervisor, and in fact there is no way to run the IBM i platform (or AIX for that matter) on a bare metal Power7, Power7+, or Power8 machine. The PowerVM hypervisor is always there in the background, even if a machine has only one partition, and the overhead is always built into the system. There is a certain kind of honesty and ingenuity to this approach, which means customers don’t see the overhead of virtualization and it is removed from their thinking. As a matter of principle, as we pointed out in the wake of the Power E850 announcement last summer, IBM i is a peer to AIX and Linux on Power8 systems and it should be available on any and every Power8 machine sells, and we think that not only includes the existing Power E850 and the new Power E850C, but also the so-called Linux-only Power Systems LC machines, which do not support PowerVM but which have their own OPAL microcode and support the PowerKVM hypervisor.
There are four important things to consider about the Power E850C. First, there is no technical reason why this system can’t run IBM i 7.2 and 7.3, the latest releases of the IBM midrange operating system. So, if you had a compelling need, IBM can (and might) allow you to run IBM i on the Power E850C. It all comes down to demand from customers and time to certify it by IBM’s techies.
“We don’t support IBM i on the E850C because that machine is just not a sweet spot for them,” Steve Sibley, director of worldwide product management for IBM’s Power Systems line, explained to us in a prebriefing covering the new iron. “We have had a couple of handfuls of clients that ask us occasionally on support for IBM i, like one every quarter or so, since we launched the product and from our standpoint it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to launch a platform that has such a low request volume. I just had an IBM i customer talking to me about how they wanted the Power 870C in their case even though their core count was not huge because of the reliability characteristics of the machine. We see IBM i clients as being either on the Power S824 or the Power E870C, and we don’t see a lot in between.”
We have to take IBM at face value that there is low demand for a quad-socket Power E850, plain vanilla or C-style machine inclusive. But you get the market you push for and pull for, and frankly, we think that with quad-socket servers taking off like wildfire in Asia and a large installed base of existing IBM i customers, there is no reason why the base should not look like a pyramid instead of a dumbbell with a skinny midrange and fat entry and high ends. It is the two decades of pricing practices that have shaped the IBM midrange to be as it is, and not the customer base that is shaping the IBM product line. If pricing for hardware and software were lower on the midrange products, across the line, customers might be deploying more workloads and growing them faster on IBM i platforms than they currently do. I still believe in the elasticity of demand–apparently IBM does not. The fact remains that machines with fewer than four sockets dominate all server shipments these days.
The other thing to remember is that anything that makes Power Systems and OpenPower stronger makes the IBM i platform live longer. So even if IBM i is not available on the Power E850 and Power E850C, the fact that IBM can sell a bunch of these machines running Linux and AIX means Big Blue can better justify the continued investment it is making in Power chips. It would be far worse if IBM didn’t have a midrange Power8 machine at all than it is to have one that does not run IBM i.
Third, there is no reason to believe that IBM would leave an opportunity to sell a machine unfulfilled, and that if enough customers asked for IBM i on the Power E850C, it would certify it and support it. We think that if managed service providers (MSPs) ask for it–and there are sound economic and technical reasons to think that they will–IBM do special deals, as it has with RPQ systems for the past three decades.
And fourth and finally, the most important thing is that there is no reason that customers buying a fat Power S824 two-socket system or a skinny four-socket Power E870C system, which was announced a few weeks ago, can’t argue to get the level of price/performance improvement that the E850C is offering compared to the Power E850 on their machines when they run IBM i. IBM can add in lower CPU and memory prices as well as the PowerVM Enterprise Edition hypervisor and the PowerVC implementation of the OpenStack cloud controller on the Power S824 and Power E870C and essentially make something that looks and smells like the Power E850C.
So, to help you argue for the best deal you can get on a fat Power S820 or a skinny Power E870 or E870C running IBM i, we will drill into the details on the new Power E850C.
The Feeds And Speeds
The Power E850C is a better price/performer for a number of different reasons. First, according to George Gaylord, offering manager for Power Systems at IBM, the machine includes modified motherboards, I/O planars, power supplies, and cooling that allows the Power8 processors to run within a 250 watt thermal envelope instead of the 190 watt envelope of the predecessor Power8 chips used in the Power E850 system. The processors run at higher clock speeds within that boosted power envelope, with the eight-core Power8 used in the Power E850C running at 4.22 GHz instead of 3.72 GHz (up 13.4 percent), the 10-core variant running at 3.95 GHz instead of 3.35 GHz (up 17.9 percent), and the twelve-core variant running at 3.65 GHz instead if 3.02 GHz (up 20.9 percent).
The C-style Enterprise Cloud variants of the Power Systems machines have things that are tossed in for free to sweeten the deal, including software, some maintenance services, and a performance boost. The chart above is a tidy way of showing the elements that were paid for in the past (in light green) and that are now included in the C-style machines. There are a few extra things tossed in, like a the new Power2Cloud support services (similar to the PowerCare extra support that debuted with the original Power E870 and E880 machines) and the Starter Pack freebie Power instance on the SoftLayer cloud. A license to the PowerVM Enterprise Edition hypervisor, which has Live Partition Mobility live migration for logical partitions among many other features, is added it.
You will note that Software Maintenance for PowerVM Enterprise Edition is part of the base offering, but is not included in the price, so here is where IBM is getting some revenue uplift. Ditto for the PowerVC Manager implementation of OpenStack. It is included in the base offering, but separately priced. (Give me a second and we will get into the specific pricing.)
The performance bump, as gauged by the Relative Performance (rPerf) metric commonly used by IBM for its AIX and Linux workloads, is substantial. Take a look:
The Commercial Performance Workload (CPW) test used by IBM to rate the relative performance of IBM i workloads scales more or less linearly with the rPerf test, since both are based on a modified variant of the TPC-C online transaction processing benchmark. (On larger systems, the gap between the two widens because of differences in the kernels of AIX and IBM i and the way the tests are implemented by the two different software teams.)
The important thing for IBM is that customers who bought enterprise-class Power 770 systems, which are old enough to have been fully depreciated now, can shift over to the Power E850C and still have plenty of room to boost performance while at the same time radically shrinking their server footprint. These old Power7 machines are perfect candidates for a push-pull upgrade, and you can even make the case for Power 770+ systems using the Power7+ processors. This is particularly the case for customers who have software that is licensed on a per-core basis. It takes far fewer cores to hit a certain level of performance with the Power E850C than it does for either the Power 770 or Power 770+ systems. There is a Software Group downshift, too. Which is going to probably make some independent software vendors who use tiered software pricing unhappy, but software has to obey Moore’s Law, too. Or at least it should.
Which brings us to the final analysis, where the rubber hits the road, or more precisely, where the compiler hits the more aggressively priced and higher performing system. Take a look at how the Power E850C stacks up:
The pricing above includes all of the required features in the new C-style bundles, plus a 20 percent discount on the old and new stacks for Both Power E850 systems. As you can see, after the discounts, this particular and pretty hefty 40-core system costs 12 percent less and the performance goes up by 13 percent, for a net 21 percent price/performance increase.
As I said above, any customer buying a fat Power S824 or a skinny Power E870C system (which does support IBM i unlike the Power 850C) should demand at least a 21 percent price performance improvement, and because the performance of the iron has not changed, that all has to come from a price decrease on the Power8 iron. And don’t forget to get that 20 percent discount IBM is showing off here, too.