I Dare You To Keep Track Of Power Systems Memory Prices
November 5, 2018 Timothy Prickett Morgan
One of the great things about IBM is that, thanks to a series of antitrust lawsuits that it settled with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division – after much, much legal grief and heaven only knows how much expense – back in the 1960s and 1980s, the company has created systems that tell customers about its products, how they change an evolve, and what they cost at any given time.
All vendors should be required by law to publish list prices, because they provide a ceiling to the negotiations. A point above which you know a vendor is not going to try to charge. Oracle – and I know you are going to laugh here – does a great job of this with its servers and systems software (middleware, databases, and operating systems), and it didn’t even have to get sued to do it. All it had to do is watch IBM wrangling with the law for a few decades to catch the hint.
Now, while IBM is better than most, it has removed list pricing for many IBM i components from public view, which is bad. And it is sometimes hard as heck to try to figure out where the deals are, if there are any at all. We do our best to poke around and find any new things in the IBM announcement systems, but they have changed the interface and it doesn’t work as well any more.
So we went poking around and found a bunch of things relevant to Power Systems shops, and now we are going to tell you about them.
This one has to do with relatively fat memory sticks for the machines that use either the “Nimbus” or “Cumulus” Power9 chips in rack and tower servers. The Cumulus chips do buffered memory and the Nimbus chips do not. In announcement letter 318-166, which came out back on October 1, IBM announced that the 128 GB memory sticks for the Power9 scale-out systems would get a 10 percent price cut. This letter did not show up in any feeds we have, so go figure. But we found it, and now we can tell you about it. Take a look at this table:
On a machine that might have four or eight of these 128 GB memory sticks in them, a 10 or 11 percent price cut might not seem like much, but all of the Power9 system components are not inexpensive, particularly for the ones that are not Linux-only machines and that don’t come with special discounts already built in for processing and sometimes other components. The interesting thing to me in this chart is that all of the machines in the table use standard DDR4 DIMMs, which you could technically buy anywhere unless IBM is using little tweaks to the timing pulses to make only its own memory work (as it used to back in the 1990s), but the memory in the Power E950 has “Centaur” memory buffers created by IBM (which include L4 cache memory) on the system card rather than on the DIMM stick. For some reason, IBM is already charging 15 percent less for the standard DIMMs used in the Power E950. Go figure. Perhaps it is because the run at a lower speed.
You may recall that back in June we told you about a memory price hike that IBM did on scale-out Power9 systems and all Power8 systems, which ranged from 2 percent to 4 percent on modest capacity sizes, but which had a 35 percent hike for denser 128 GB sticks. That price hike was caused not by IBM’s greed, but by high memory prices as there are shortages for capacity. Making super skinny memory for smartphones is a lot more profitable than making fat sticks for servers, so that is what the industry is doing. There is more demand than supply for server memory, and until the summer, after a year of pain, the server makers started passing the costs on to users. IBM is giving some of that May price hike back here in October.
In announcement letter 318-146, dated September 3 and effective October 1, IBM is making a second increase to memory prices for Power8 machines that saw the price hike in May, and this time the skinny 16 GB memory sticks are getting the big increase and the fatter memory (32 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB) are seeing only a 5 percent increase. Take a gander at this monster table:
IBM is using memory price as a stick to convince customers to buy Power9 iron instead, and cashing in on those customers who will boost performance on their Power8 machines by adding memory rather than upgrading their Power8 processors or do a migration to Power9. It isn’t much of a stick, and there are not a lot of carrots here to entice customers, either.
Back in June, I found out from poking around, in announcement letter 318-090, IBM Japan raised memory prices on Power8-based LC (Linux only) models, but only for the skinny sticks with 8 GB, 16 GB, or 32 GB of capacity. IBM said back in September 10 in announcement letter 318-157 that effective November 1 it would be raising other memory prices on the scale-out Power8 machines, including the models that run AIX and IBM i. In both cases, IBM Japan did not say how much the price increases would be, so the announcements are, in that sense, utterly useless.
I miss the days when I could just log into IBMLink and look up prices and all of the announcement letters were organized and you didn’t miss things. If one of you business partners out there reading are keeping track of all of these component prices for Power Systems and want to share, I would be grateful. It’s really difficult for even resellers to know what something costs until they have a bid to put in one a new system or an upgrade. That’s not the spirit of the IBM Consent Decree – but good luck getting lawyers in Washington to care.