IBM Gives The Midrange A Valentine’s Day (Processor) Card
February 20, 2017 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As expected, IBM rolled out a Valentine’s Day surprise for its IBM i and AIX customer bases with a new pair of machines aimed at giving a low powered, lower cost option for the customers running its legacy applications instead of Linux, which is the darling of the Power Systems business these days even though it does not come even close to representing the majority of the Power Systems revenue stream.
The Power Mini or IBMini, as I have been calling the machine affectionately, turns out to be a variant of the existing single-socket Power S812 system that IBM has been selling to AIX and Linux customers for years. It comes in two flavors: a machine with a single core activated aimed at IBM i workloads and another one with four cores activated that is aimed at AIX workloads.
In launching this geared-down Power S812 machine, IBM is conceding something that we have been saying for years: that there are customers who have old iron and modest transaction processing needs that don’t grow at anything even close to Moore’s Law advances in system throughput or, in a lot of cases, that only grow at the rate of the economy or not at all. In its presentation to business partners who will be peddling this new Power S812 pair, IBM said as much:
“There is a market segment for small AIX and IBM i servers where the current offerings don’t match the price customers expect to make the move to a new platform. Especially customers that have no workload growth do not benefit from enhanced capabilities of new Power platforms.”
It is good that Big Blue is actually facing up to this fact. And, it is backing this up with some data to prove it, we have learned. Here is a distribution of core counts and memory configurations for the Power S814, Power S822, and Power S824 entry servers that can run IBM i and AIX that IBM gave to business partners to show that it needs a geared down box:
As you can see, there are a lot of very skinny Power S814 systems out in the field, and a fairly large number of skinny Power S822 machines that are a little lean in the gigabytes and core counts, too. (This data shore the share of customer accounts with each configuration, which is interesting in its own right and which could help us establish the value of the installed base of entry Power8 machines in the field.) To that end, IBM is configuring the mini Power S812 machines, which are not given a snazzy name by Big Blue so we can talk about them in a human way, as we could with the “Invader” systems from days gone by. We could call them “Cupid” systems, I suppose.
To be precise, the new machine is a variant of the existing Power S812L Linux-only system that IBM has been selling since April 2014, and it is expressly configured to have a price point that is 20 percent lower than the entry Power S814 and Power S822 systems that represent the current low-end of the entry machines capable of running IBM i or AIX. We don’t have actual pricing on the machines and they won’t be added to IBM’s eConfig tool until February 28, so pricing is not yet available. We have heard some partners saying that the price for a configured IBM i machine is between $8,500 and $11,000, depending on the options, but I don’t know how they are calculating this. We will figure out pricing on the Power Mini and its Power S814 and Power S822 siblings as soon as we can. General availability is not until March 17, so we have time to figure it all out.
In the meantime, we can tell you all about the feeds and speeds.
Technically speaking, the new machine is sold under the 8284-21A product number in the IBM catalog, and as we had heard, it has limits on its hardware and software so customers buying it have to be careful. The Power8 chip in the machine cores running at just a hair over 3 GHz – 3.026 GHz, if you want to be precise – and in the case of the IBM i model, the “Murano” dual chip module with two six-core Power8 chips in a single package has but one core actually working. These are no doubt chips that would have otherwise ended up in the garbage bin, but as I have been saying for a long time, many IBM i ships don’t need more than one core. The IBM i variant of the Power Mini can be configured with either 16 GB or 32 GB “Centaur” DIMM memory sticks (CDIMMs in IBM speak), which means they have the integrated L4 cache and memory buffer technology in them; these sticks run at 1.6 GHz speeds. The IBM i machine can have up to 64 GB of capacity and above that, no matter how much physical memory is in the box above that point, it won’t be able to address it. The AIX variant, which has four cores activated, tops out at 128 GB. The memory can be as low as a single stick, and you cannot mix and match 16 GB and 32 GB sticks in the system as you can with other Power Systems machines; if you want to have more than one stick in the box, you have to add them in pairs. The processors and memory are also not hot pluggable as they are in other Power Systems machines, and the CPUs cannot be changed unlike other Power Systems machines. This is a “set it and forget it” system.
Here is how the Power Mini configured for IBM i stacks up against a baby Power S814 with four cores:
As you can see, it has the same 64 GB memory cap, but it does not support the Virtual I/O server for virtualized peripheral connections, it does not require a Hardware Management Console, and it does not support PowerVM for logical partitioning of IBM i workloads or for running AIX or Linux side-by-side with IBM i. The Power S812 fits in a 1U enclosure, so it is twice as dense as the 2U Power S814. You will also notice that you have to be on a fairly modern IBM i release on the Power Mini: IBM i 7.2 TR6 or 7.3 TR2 or later, to be precise.
Here is how the Power Mini stacks up to a baby Power S822 setup, which can obviously have a lot of cores and memory:
There are different storage backplane options that customers can choose from, with a mix of disk drives and flash drives for different scenarios. IBM is highly recommending that IBM i shops buy a SAS disk controller with 7.2 GB of write cache and to mix disk and flash in separate arrays within the enclosure, creating a hardware tiering for storage. The three possible configurations are:
- Eight SFF-3 bays, DVD bay, and dual SAS controller with write cache
- Twelve SFF-3 bays, DVD bay, and single SAS controller
- Twelve SFF-3 bays, DVD bay, and split backplane two SAS controllers
The IBM i box does not allow EXP24SX or EXP12SX expansion drawers, but the AIX box does. Also, the IBM i box tops out at eight drives no matter what backplane you choose. Yeah, those moves were kinda mean, and show that IBM i is really about transactions and AIX is really about building clusters with storage. But it is also a reflection of the fact that many IBM i shops could get by just fine with a Power4 system with one or two cores and modern I/O and storage. We are talking about a single-core 3 GHz processor here that has less oomph than my laptop. That is a reflection of how good IBM i is at what it does, by the way, as well as the modest nature of transaction processing at a lot of IBM i (and earlier) shops. On last thing. When you use the split backplane, it burns two of the seven PCI-Express slots in the box.
The Power Mini is pegged to an IBM i P05 software tier, so IBM did not create a lower tier that was even less expensive as I had hoped. But you should push IBM to cut the price on the IBM i licenses if you are moving from vintage iron and operating systems to the new gear and software and if you are making a commitment to getting on Software Maintenance for the new system.
IBM is offering an Express Edition preconfigured bundle for the Power Mini, which includes a five user license to IBM i with built in 5250 protocol support for green screen and screen scraped applications as well as an unlimited user license to the IBM i Access family of web application access tools for the system. The Power Mini running IBM has a cap of 25 “real” users. IBM is offering four disk drives with 283 GB capacities spinning at 15K RPM at discounted prices and also the development tool stack for IBM i at a reduced price, too, as part of the Express Edition bundle. How low, we do not know. But we will.
IBM is also offering a Capacity BackUp (CBU) high availability cluster option for the Power Mini, allowing for companies to back up a machine using Power7, Power7+, or Power8 iron that is in a P05 or P10 software tier.