Talking IBM i Shop With New Power Systems GM Ken King
February 7, 2022 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Every new general manager of the AS/400 division and its successors all the way up to the current Power Systems division – which hopefully is no longer called Cognitive Systems in the financials but nowhere else – inherits a unique configuration of that business in time and space and after one, two, or three years leaves it in another configuration.
In all of our years of writing The Four Hundred, we have made an effort to get to know each and every one of them. Last July, ahead of the spinout of the Kyndryl managed services business in November, Ken King quietly took over as general manager of Power Systems, a platform that he knows well from the hardware and software perspective. Stephen Leonard, who had the job most recently and who we talked to back in May last year after he had settled in for a few months, left to be head of its global alliances and partnerships. At that point, IBM was only weeks away from launching the “Denali” Power E1080 high end machines, the first Power10 boxes that Big Blue is putting into the field. (We covered the announcement of the Power E1080 back in September 2021 and did a deep dive into the architecture as a follow-up, as well as other stories relating to the high-end NUMA server market.)
King is taking over Power Systems as IBM is focusing down on its core systems business as it is getting ready to launch the entry and midrange Power10 machines – we don’t know their codenames yet – sometime in the first half of this year. This looks to be a pretty good year for Power Systems, given the Power E1080 ramping in volume and the entry machines being the ones most likely to be installed by most IBM i customers, who represent the largest part of the 140,000 or so companies in the Power Systems installed base.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: So it’s a new year, and Power10 started coming out last September and I beat the drum for that system and attacked that story from every angle I could think of to explain that this is the biggest, baddest server out there. At the high-end, IBM pretty much rules that roost. So give me an update about how the Power E1080 is doing and say what you can about the entry and midrange Power10 systems coming out. I think it is in May or June. . . .
Ken King: We just we just put the high end out and the low end is coming out in 2022. I can’t go into specifics and details, but you have a reasonable guess. The high end is starting out very strong.
You know, it’s sort of a tale of two cities. We’re at the front end of our Power10 high end and we’re at the very back end of the Power9 scale out. We did the launches in reverse with Power9, first with scale out and specifically in the CORAL supercomputers at the Department of Energy, which was the key element driving that the CORAL schedule, and then we did more scale out machines, and then the high end. So the scale out cycle is much longer than normal.
All I can say at this point is that we are driving a lot of good return on Power10, and we are seeing growth in the first phase of it. We are doing well with SAP HANA workloads, and have had a number of big wins with SAP HANA, as you can imagine, because we had record-breaking benchmarks with SAP. Our eight-socket server was better than anybody else’s 16-socket X86 server, and when we delivered our three and four node machines at the end of 2021, we had even more compelling benchmark results that drove more client wins.
We’re still cranking away on the Power10 scale out systems and the plans for those remain on schedule.
Moreover, we are going to continue to drive more capability to enable clients to buy with different types of consumption models. And I think that will help in getting many Power Systems customers to see value in upgrading. You talked to Stephen about this last year, we are also continuing to build out more capabilities and what we call our frictionless hybrid cloud. And that’s for AIX and IBM i and Linux, and it is to have architectural consistency between our on premises and public cloud capabilities, allowing customers to move the capacity they buy back and forth between their public and private cloud setups. We’ve done it in a way where on the IBM Cloud as well as with hyperscalers such as Google and Microsoft there’s no refactoring of applications required.
TPM: And can you make the pricing absolutely consistent as well, between the IBM Cloud and on premises gear? I know they’re getting closer and closer, but can you get to the point where you just say it is X dollars per hour for a certain amount of compute and Y dollars per hour for memory, and it doesn’t matter where the machine is physically located? I realize that the IBM Cloud has to pay for power, cooling, and space so that has to be reckoned with in some way. . . .
Ken King: There are different cost elements that may create some challenges. But generally, that’s the goal, so it is easier for clients run their applications on a Power-based private cloud on premises and then decide to take some of that capacity and burst it to the IBM, Microsoft, or Google public cloud and be able to pay the same amount for that. That frictionless model is what we’re moving towards, and it means you don’t have to refactor the applications, but also that all elements of how you your user experience with the platform are consistent in the hybrid cloud environment.
We’re also looking to extend that by partnering with more managed services providers and with other major cloud providers, the objective over time is not just to have a consistent hybrid cloud, but a consistent multi-hybrid cloud strategy for the Power platform. And I think the more we’re able to do that, as we go through time, the more the clients who are sitting on Power6, Power7, and Power8 will see different upgrade paths and value props associated with them.
The other thing we’re doing is we’re creating a low latency environment between AIX on premises and AIX in the IBM Cloud and Linux. We have Linux with OpenShift, with Ansible, on Power. So that it’s easy for clients that are running on premises and in the public cloud to be able to use Ansible, to have the same user experience of administering AIX like they are administering Linux, no matter where it is.
Now, if you want to take those systems of record on IBM i or AIX and do some modernization and extension work, or add some new user experience on top of it, I can do that very easily in a low latency environment linking AIX and IBM i partitions to Linux partitions.
TPM: One of the interesting things IBM did last year was to add support for IBM i 7.1 on Power9 systems. And that can bring a whole lot of companies into the Power9 fold. With Power10, there is so much more compute capacity in these processors, and I think it might be useful to be able to support even older IBM i releases – IBM i 6.1, i5/OS V5.4, OS/400 V5R3 – in some sort of emulated mode on the Power10 machines atop of the PowerVM hypervisor.
Is there a way to try to reach back and grab some of those older operating systems and all those applications that for a lot of different reasons are trapped out there? Sometimes companies don’t have their source code, they haven’t paid their maintenance to their third-party software supplier, or whatever. These are huge barriers that a lot of IBM i customers can’t get through so easily. Imagine if we could get them to Power10 now and then figure out how to modernize or upgrade their software once they all got onto new iron? I don’t want Power10 to be a higher wall, but an easy move. You might be able to emulate the older environments like IBM did with the System/36 and the System/38 Emulation Environments with the original releases of OS/400 back in the late 1980s.
What do you think about all of this?
Ken King: Well, I can’t comment on the technical feasibility of it, per se. I can comment that we are continually looking for ways that compel our clients and provide value propositions for our clients to move to the latest platform.
I wrote it down, and I appreciate the input.