Doing The Texas Two Step From Power9 To Power10
March 1, 2021 Timothy Prickett Morgan
You won’t find an official IBM customer announcement letter on this deal, but we caught wind of it back in late January and we have confirmed with Big Blue that it is indeed offering customers a two-step upgrade track from Power8 and earlier iron to Power10 iron with a middle step on a Power9 machine until the Power10 machines are available starting later this year and into early next year.
As we reported back on February 1, IBM has indeed been working on something called the “Two-Step Upgrade Program” for customers, which had a name change shift to “IBM Power Systems Flexible Trade Up Offer” from the time we heard about it to the time IBM started talking to business partners about it ahead of the February 23 Power Systems announcements.
Given that the Power9 servers were launched in December 2017 for supercomputers and in February 2018 for entry level machines, codenamed “ZZ,” and that we do not expect so-called scale-out systems with Power10 processors until early 2022, that is a very big span of time for resellers to be waiting for the next generation of machine. (The Linux-only L models of the Power9-based Power Systems lineup, code-named “Boston,” came out in May 2018.) This would not be a big deal except that each new generation of machine has always delivered an improvement in price/performance, by default, without having to wrangle for it with resellers or IBM itself. In most years, the performance goes up – sometimes way up – and so do the capacities of memory and storage as well as the bandwidth of I/O from generation to generation, so it is not just about lower unit costs in CPW raw performance. The whole system capacity tends to go up and even if the price remains the same, as it has in recent years, the cost per unit of capacity goes down and that extra capacity gets used to do legacy things better and new things in the first place.
If a typical Power CPU generation is three years, as it has been in recent years, and we are going to be in the range of four years for the scale-out, entry Power Systems machines, that is a lot of bang for the buck to leave on the table. We have been banging the table for IBM to do something about this, particularly given that most IBM i shops use entry machines with modest performance, memory, storage, and I/O. With midrange and high-end machines expected later this year, as we discussed back in November 2020, that is only three years since the Power9-based “Zeppelin” Power E950 and “Fleetwood” Power E980 launched in August 2018. This is typical, even if it is somewhat prolonged given that X86 and now Arm server chips are on an annual cadence. (Well, Intel is trying to get back to an annual cadence. AMD is doing a pretty good job with its Epyc server chips, and Ampere Computing and Amazon are on an annual cadence for updates to their respective Altra and Graviton Arm server processors.) There are no big NUMA Arm servers to speak of, and AMD Epycs are only for machines with one or two sockets. So IBM and Intel are the only ones making big iron, and Intel’s big iron peters out at eight sockets and 1.5 TB of DDR4 memory per socket.
Anyway. The point is, IBM knows it can’t just sit on its hands for the next year with nothing new to sell customers. What it can do, however, is aggressively price Power9 machinery now and build in an upgrade to Power10 machinery in the future. And that is what the Power Systems Flexible Trade Up deal does:
While Big Blue is keeping many of the details of the Power9 to Power10 trade up program to itself, Steve Sibley, vice president and global offering management for Cognitive Systems at IBM, gave us some insight into the nature of the deal.
“There are a couple of things that we are delivering,” explains Sibley. “One thing that we are working on is a technology currency offering for clients, particularly for our scale-out systems, because Power10 doesn’t show up for them until next year. This allows them to move to Power9 now, and we will give them consistent payments for five or six years, depending on what they want to do. And then we will upgrade them in the middle of that cycle to Power10, and they get 30 percent to 40 percent more performance for the same payments. Or they if they don’t need the additional performance, they can lower the payments in they don’t need the additional performance and they want to buy out the system.”
To which I responded, as you might imagine: Was That So Hard?
And we all had a good laugh, and honestly, IBM is doing the right thing by customers who can’t wait for Power10 machinery to get the price/performance bump they need – and deserve – right now. Particularly during a global pandemic and a rocky global economy.
As part of this flexible trade up deal, IBM is allowing for the Power9 and Power10 systems to be used side-by-side for three months at no additional cost so a staged, seamless upgrade can be done for databases and applications without any fuss, muss, or rush.
The other thing that IBM will be allowing customers to do is buy licenses to Power CPU capacity and operating system licenses for Power9 machines and move those activations across Enterprise Pools to Power10 machinery when they are out on the big NUMA boxes later this year. This is a very similar price/performance deal, but here the prices are held constant and the capacity increases with the move to Power10.
That’s all IBM is saying right now about it. If we learn more, we will let you know.