The Bang For The Buck Of Entry IBM i Servers
March 27, 2017 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In last Monday’s issue of The Four Hundred, I rounded up the feeds, speeds, and pricing of the new Power S812 Mini system that Big Blue started selling in the middle of March to IBM i shops with modest computing needs. We are talking one core running at just over 3 GHz and providing an aggregate of 9,880 units of performance on the Commercial Processing Workload (CPW) online transaction processing benchmark test used to gauge the oomph of Power Systems and their predecessors.
This ain’t a lot of computing in 2017, people. Just pointing that out. And I will also point out that because of the efficiency of the IBM i operating system and its integrated DB2 for i relational database, you don’t need a lot of computing power to do the useful back office, business critical, transaction processing workloads for a modest number – say a few dozen – of users.
The Power S812 Mini is a single-core Power8 machine that tops out at 64 GB of main memory, which was launched on Valentine’s Day this year. If you want to see the technical specifications of the Power S812 and how it stacks up to its Power S822 and Power S824 brethren, you can see our detailed analysis here. The purpose of this story is to see what the base Power S812 configuration is according to IBM’s eConfig system and what they cost (which we did last week) and the create similar Power S822 and Power S824 setups.
Before I get into that, I want to address a few of the comments in last week’s story. First of all, one reseller reached out and said that you probably only needed four disk drives for an entry configuration, but I will counter that IBM itself recommends that customers deploy the split backplane with redundant RAID data protection across two pairs of four disk drives. So, no, I don’t think this is wise given IBM’s own recommendation although I do see how this would lower the price considerably. IBM is charging a lot of dough for that split backplane, which includes write cache on the controllers that the disks hang off of. Ditto for small memory sizes. Yes, a smaller memory footprint would drop the cost a lot, but this is a very tiny bit of main memory. As for all of the suggestions about a tape drive, yes, I realize every shop needs one but I am looking at the cost of the core system – compute, memory, storage, networking, operating system, and support for system software. The cost of the tape drive is big enough to skew the overall cost and then you can’t feel how expensive the storage and memory is for the Power S812 Mini compared to the processing. I agree that shops need a tape of some sort, but the prices and capabilities are all over the map.
Ok, to review, here is the configured price I ginned up with the help of eConfig for the Power S812 Mini.
For the purposes of this thought experiment and literary shopping experience, I have configured single-core versions of the two-socket Power S822 and Power S824 machines, which are in much higher P10 and P20 software tiers rather than the P05 tier that the Power S812 Mini is in. (There is a four-core Power S824 out there, but for most customers, this Power S812 replaces it, so I didn’t go there.) So without further ado, here are the feeds, speeds, and pricing for the hardware, software, and Software Maintenance support for the Power S822:
As you can see, the hardware costs on the two machines are not substantially different. The single 3 GHz core in the Power S812 is rated at 9,880 CPWs while a single core of the Power S822 runs at 3.89 GHz and is rated at around 12,750 CPWs according to IBM’s latest Power Systems Performance Capabilities Reference, which was just updated. (Actually, that CPW number is an estimate based on what a four-core system does divided by four, if you want to be precise.) The system software stack on the Power S822 is considerably more expensive – 71 percent higher – than on the Power S812, thanks mostly to the higher cost of the per-core license fees for the IBM i operating system and integrated database. Software Maintenance is 115 percent higher (meaning a factor of 2.15X higher), and it all adds up to the base Power S822 with a single core, 64 GB of main memory, and eight drives costing $61,862, 51 percent higher than the cost of the Power S812. (The Power S822 has 10 Gb/sec Ethernet networking, while the Power S812 has 1 Gb/sec Ethernet, all you can get on it.)
Now, let’s step up to the Power S824:
The Power S824 is in the P20 software tier, as I said above, and this makes it a very pricey machine indeed. On the “hardware” side, the eConfig tool has added $15,000 to license one core of the 5250 Enablement feature, which lets green screen applications run at full speed using the 5250 protocol. (This feature is included in the other machines by default.) The incremental cost in processor feature cards and activation of the core makes up the difference in the Power S824 hardware price, which comes to $37,414, and that is a more than twice as expensive as the Power S812 configuration. IBM i costs a whopping $44,000 per core on the Power S824, and IBM i Access is not tossed in for a low price as it was on the Power S822 or for free as on the Power S812 Mini. The software stack costs nearly five times as much (again, with only 29 percent more performance, in theory, so long as the workloads are not memory bound.) And Software Maintenance on the stack is nearly three times as expensive. Unless you have needs for expansion, the Power S824 is definitely not the right machine for entry IBM i shops with modest workloads.
Something we have complained about since April 2014, when the Power8 machines first launched, again, and again, and again, and again . . . in so many ways.
It is hard to take all of that data in all at once across three tables, so here it is consolidated by category:
And here is what it looks like visually for the IBM i machines:
I have added in the CPW metrics and per user costs for these machines, and calculated the cost per CPW, the cost per user (there are 25 users per machine), the cost per user per month over a 36-month term, and the cost of the hardware spread out over a 36-month term. And just for fun, I tossed in the cost of four different configurations of the M4 instances on the EC2 compute service from Amazon Web Services equipped with Windows Server 2016 plus the Standard Edition of SQL Server from Microsoft. The IBM i machines are not cheap, but as you can see, neither are these EC2 instances, which are heavier on the compute using the last two generations of Intel Xeon E5 processors. Those AWS prices, by the way, do not include the cost of Elastic Block Storage, and that would drive the price up way high over 36 months. The price of that storage would depend on the access patterns, but I will take a stab at doing that in a follow-on story as well as comparing these costs to real Windows Server and Linux system prices.