The Battle Of The Single-Core IBM i Machines
July 20, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Last week, IBM announced a revamped lineup of entry Power9 systems, including a new single-core variant of the Power S922 server aimed at IBM i shops that will replace the long-running Power S812 and the Power S914 for IBM i customers with modest compute performance and storage requirements. The announcement of the single-core Power S922 comes just as the stay of execution for the Power S812 will be running out on August 31.
In the issue last week, we told you that we didn’t have a lot of the details on the pricing of the new single-core Power S922 machine, and this week, we have obtained pricing information from Dylan Boday, director of product offering management for scale out systems within IBM’s Cognitive Systems division. Big Blue keeps its pricing pretty close to itself and partners and to customers actually buying machines, so getting detailed pricing and configuration information, as Boday gave us, is a big deal. We, of course, are going to enhance it a bit with some other information we have for Solution Edition configurations to not only compare the new single-core Power S922 against the Power S914, as Boday did, but also to the Power S812. And we are going to also shift from disk configurations to NVM-Express flash storage to see the effects as well, and add the Solution Edition Booster Pack software and services bundle on top of them to get a more representative comparison. And finally, we are going to take a look at the utility pricing IBM is offering on the single-core Power S922 that can significantly lower the capital expenditures.
We were saying for months that Big Blue needed to do something to help IBM i shops struggling and anxious during the coronavirus pandemic, and this is a good mix of promotions. But now we are going to figure out how good.
Let’s start with the base configurations comparing the four-core Power S914 system against the single-core Power S922. Here is how IBM looks at it:
This is a base hardware configuration comparison, with the machines having their processors installed but cores not activated and IBM i licenses not installed. These machines have the SAS disk drive backplanes installed plus a pair of 600 GB 10K RPM SAS small form factor (SFF) disk drives, 64 GB of main memory, and a network card with four 1 Gb/sec ports. One core in the Power S914 runs at 2.3 GHz and has a rating of 13,125 per core on the Commercial Performance Workload (CPW) online transaction processing benchmark test. (Well, to be precise, the four-core machine has a rating of 52,500 and if you divide it by four you get 13,125.) This base Power S914 machine costs $11,600 with the processor installed but with no core activations and with no IBM i licenses on the system.
With the new single-core Power S922 announced last week, that machine is using a tweaked Power9 chip that has a base speed of 2.8 GHz and that only costs $1,599 instead of $1,815 for the four-core Power9 chip running at 2.3 GHz. (Both of these chips can turbo up to 3.8 GHz provided the thermal envelope lets them.) The four-core Power S922 system is rated at 68,000 CPWs of relative performance, which is 17,000 CPWs per core. And at list price for the same base processor with no core activations, 64 GB of memory, and 1.2 TB of disk, this machine costs $10,500. That’s a 9.5 percent reduction in hardware costs, but a 30 percent improvement in price/performance for a single-core implementation – 62 cents per CPW with the Power S922 versus 88 cents per CPW for the Power S914. Which is good. (We are assuming a single-core processor activation will be added at no cost because customers will opt for the Solution Edition bundle. Also, for CPW performance, see the new IBM Power Systems Performance Capabilities Reference released, which is the IBM i 7.4 edition from July 2020.)
But the other important comparison, which is missing in this set of tables, is to the single-core Power S812 that has also underpinned Solution Edition bundles. Back in March 2017, in the wake of the announcement of the Power S812 Mini configuration, I put together this configuration:
(You can read more about the Power S812 Mini at this link.)
To make the comparisons the same, we have to take out the core activation and half of the disks as well as the shipping and handling and the SATA Slimline DVD drive, which drops the price of the Power S812 with a 3 GHz Power8 processor, 64 GB of memory, and 1.2 TB of disk to $11,499. This machine was rated at 9,360 CPWs, and that works out to $1.23 per CPW. The new single-core Power S922 offers 1.8X the performance at a slightly lower price to yield a factor of 2X better bang for the buck.
Given the performance advantages of NVM-Express flash cards and the lower cost of these devices now, and the ability to remove the backplane (and therefore its cost) from the system, we thought it was a good idea to take these configurations and tweak them to add flash. (We talked about the use of flash over disk back in November last year, and also went through IBM’s Solution Edition disk-to-flash swap out here.)
The Power S812 does not support NVM-Express flash drives or cards, so this is not possible. You can swap out 283 GB disk drives for 387 GB SAS SSDs (feature #ESB9), which as we reported last fall cost $2,175 a pop. This increases the I/O operations per second and no doubt would drive applications and free up some CPU cycles for other work when they are not waiting for disk I/O. The Power S812 configuration has eight 283 GB disks at a cost of $5,280. Three 387 GB flash SSDs can plug into this machine to yield close to 1.2 TB of capacity and a stupid amount of I/O for a cost of $6,525. That nets it all out to $12,764 for a machine that is all flash and as close as we can make it to NVM-Express storage. That’s $1.36 per CPW, which is a modest increase in price.
Now, let’s do it for the Power S914 and the Power S922 each configured with a single core. Take out the disk backplane and disks and add a single 1.6 TB NVM-Express flash drive, and the price is $11,942, or 91 cents per CPW for the Power S914, and $10,842, or 64 cents per CPW, for the Power S922. (These are single core machines with the configurations outlined far above.) Personally, I would double up the NVM-Express flash cards on the single-core PowerS922, which raised the price to $13,441 or 79 cents per CPW. On the Power S914, doing the same thing raises the price to $14,541 or $1.11 per CPW. After doing that, I would ask for a bigger discount. . . .
That brings us to the Solution Edition bundles on these three machines. These are all P05-class machines, and there is no reason whatsoever that the pricing should not be the same on all of them. And you can see the pricing for this software stack in the story we did a month ago when the Solution Edition Booster Pack was announced. Basically, add another $6,635 for IBM i, user entitlements, and the Rational tools for RPG, COBOL, and C development. When you do that the single-core and flashy Power S812 cost $19,399 or $2.07 per CPW and the single-core and NVM-Express flashy Power S914 costs $21,176. The single-core and NVM-Express flashy Power S922 costs almost the same at $20,076, but it delivers 26.8 percent better bang for the buck thanks to the big boost in CPW at a cost of $1.18 per CPW.
IBM is retaining its revenue stream, but giving a lot more value for the dollar. And that is about what you can expect during a coronavirus pandemic.
Next week, we will take a look at the utility-style pricing available on the entry Power9 machines and how that can radically reduce capital expenditures and move some costs to the operating expenses part of the balance sheet.