More Insight Into The Rumored Power Mini System
February 13, 2017 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Back in the day, when IBM wanted to get customers to move ahead to new iron and the Moore’s Law increases in processing capacity meant that it needed to gear down boxes to bring customers forward, IBM actually did something about it and offered a cut-down machines with lower – and competitive – prices.
Remember the AS/400 Model 150 machines launched two decades ago, and then the breakthrough “Invader” AS/400 Model 170 machines, using the “Apache” and then “Northstar” PowerPC processors that followed them in 1998 and 1999? These systems, in a very real sense, saved the AS/400 business. Back then, Windows Server was just getting traction and Linux was just the kernel of an operating system being created by an intrepid techie in a nascent open source software movement.
None of us are naïve enough to think that the IBM i business can take on Windows Server or Linux directly here in 2017 on what has become their own turf in the datacenter, at least not in the same way that the AS/400 Invader machines were able to do back in the late 1990s, when the Internet was being commercialized like crazy and the dot-com bust was still on the horizon. It was a different world back then, when compute was scarcer and operating systems and middleware cost a lot more than it does today. But we are hopeful enough to know that Moore’s Law improvements in hardware allow for customers that are on the IBM i platform and its predecessors can move ahead to new systems and preserve their very large investments in application software, which in the end cost a lot more than the systems they run on.
This is why we are always happy when IBM realizes it needs to do more to make entry machines more attractive to IBM i and AIX shops, much as it has been catering to the Linux crowd with the Power Systems LC models.
The latest that we hear is that IBM will be announcing the lower cost, geared down machine that we told you about last week at the PartnerWorld shindig that Big Blue is hosting for its business partners from February 13 through 16. According sources familiar with IBM’s plans, there will be two variants of this system, one aimed at very small IBM i workloads and another aimed at slightly larger AIX workloads. From what we hear, these machines will have a Power8 processor configured to have a single core – yes, one core, like what we had back in the late 1990s – to support IBM i jobs and a modest 64 GB of main memory. The AIX machine will have four Power8 cores active and top out at 128 GB, so we hear. Neither machine will be equipped with the PowerVM hypervisor (or, more precisely, PowerVM will be there, but IBM will only set up a single partition and will not charge a license for it, so it will look like a bare metal rather than virtualized system.)
We suspect that only recent releases of the IBM i and AIX operating systems will be supported on this entry system, and we also think it will be set up like a freestanding box from days gone by and will not require a Hardware Management Console, which adds complexity and cost. For a lot of shops, virtualization is not as important as subsystems for isolating workloads, and the funny bit is that a subsystem is a whole lot like a software container that is finally make its way to Linux and now Windows Server. These container-like functions have only been on System/3X gear for almost 40 years. . . . Yeah, funny, that. What’s old is new again.
It is not clear what specific server platform IBM will be using to create this new entry machine, but it could be a modified Power S812 or Power S814 system in the existing Power Systems lineup or a version of one of the Power Systems LC machines, or even possibly one of the OpenPower-style machines made by Tyan, Wistron, or Supermicro. As we have said before, we want IBM to put IBM i on the highest volume, lowest cost entry Power8 and Power9 iron it brings to market and not have a bifurcated line where the Power Systems LC customers running Linux only get the cheaper iron and IBM i and AIX customers have to buy lower volume, higher cost systems.
And while we are at it, on this machine in particular, maybe we need to drop the IBM i software tier down to a new P01 or P02 software tier because even the P05 tier is not inexpensive enough for a lot of shops who have not upgraded their machines in five or ten years. Yeah, we know the operating system includes the relational database. So what? MySQL is free, and so is Linux. IBM needs to find another way to make money from these customers, and that is by getting them on current hardware and software and then helping them to grow their IBM i workloads. This is a strategy that makes sense to us.
We will have boots on the ground in Las Vegas at PartnerWorld, and we will tell you all that we find out about this Power Mini machine.