These latest announcements bring the Power7+ upgrades, delivered late last year in the 770 and 780 models, to the rest of the Power Systems range. It is good to see IBM’s continued investment in the Power server family. What is even better for us mature AS/400-types is that we will be able to run IBM i on these new systems from day one. Perhaps the days when IBM i was considered the poor relation, and we sometimes had to wait months after AIX and Linux before we could use new hardware, are gone.
As you would expect, these new processors are faster and more power-efficient than their predecessors. But what you might not have expected is that IBM has made these new systems and their memory modules a little cheaper too.
There are many excellent articles that have already been published detailing the speeds and feeds of these new servers. I have no intention of doing that here, but I think it is worth highlighting that the performance ratings show that these new Power7+ systems are 20%-30% faster than their Power7 siblings and 50% faster than equivalent Power6+ models. This, combined with larger caches, faster buses and twice the memory capacity per chip, will prove to be a fantastic cocktail for delivering back office, ERP-style application performance.
Talking of ERP, one of the first questions I was asked about these new servers was whether the new low-end systems could really run an ERP workload? Well, as just about any IBM system engineer will tell you, the answer is "it depends" but, in more cases than not, they will not only run them, they will run them really well.
What's more, you can upgrade these Power Systems and feel confident that if you improve the server specification by 50% then your workload throughput will improve by a similar amount. We generally take this for granted in the IBM i world but it’s worth remembering that this is not true of many other platforms. This is something that I personally wish was promoted more by both IBM and its partners, as it’s one of the key advantages over most of the other vendors' solutions.
I thought it would be interesting to see how an IBM i environment stacked up against a Wintel alternative. So, as an example, I put together an entry-level configuration for a Power7+ 710, with 16GB RAM, 556GB of disk, and the usual RAID, Ethernet and DVD. The total list price for hardware was around £7,000. I did the same with the Power7+ 720 and this configuration came out around £9,000.
Of course, you still need to add in the cost of the IBM i operating system, PowerVM and IBM software maintenance etc. This means adding at least another £6,000, so we are talking about a working configuration costing between £13,000- £15,000.
Next, I configured an IBM x3650 Intel server, with an equivalent level of hardware, VMware, software, database, security and maintenance and it came out at £14,000. So it seems to me that IBM is pitching these servers at the most competitive level that I have ever seen.
Does this mean that there will be a rush to buy new Power7+ servers? I hope that this lower cost will be the final nudge needed to make many customers purchase. Certainly, at this sort of price some companies will consider buying a second server for testing, development or high availability, just as they would in a typical Wintel or Lintel environment.
However, there is still a but, and it’s a big but. There is still a culture of charging a premium for applications that are delivered on the IBM i platform and until this culture is changed, it will always make it tougher to sell IBM i solutions.
Another point that I often hear being made is that clients cannot buy Power7 because they run one of the V5 versions of the operating system. But surely what they actually run is an application, not an operating system; IBM has gone to extraordinary lengths to support applications running on older systems on both the latest hardware and software.
Recently, I was able to put this to the test. At this point I have to admit that I started my career in IT in the late 1980s, writing code on the System/36 and AS/400. In a recent workshop, I upgraded a system to run version 7.1. This system contained RPG code I wrote on a system running V1R2 of OS/400. These programs still worked with no changes to the code at all, not even a recompile!
I am convinced the reality is that some companies are only running older versions of the operating system because they don’t know if their applications will work on the latest versions.These firms don’t ask their ISVs for fear of the answer being: “Yes, but only if you upgrade to our latest release”, with all the hassle and cost involved.
Worse still, some customers just don’t know who to ask to get an honest answer as to whether it is worth the effort and cost to upgrade to the latest hardware and operating system. It will probably come as no surprise to you that I believe that the new function and performance offered by Power7/7+ and IBM i 7.1 are worth the effort and expense of the upgrade.
But is there a place you could go to get an impartial opinion? You could talk to your friendly business partner or IBM engineer but you could be forgiven for thinking they might be bias or have a financial interest for wanting you to upgrade.
So where else you could you look? Well, there are plenty of forums on the internet, many with a wealth of opinion on them but this can be just as biased. My recommendation would be to go to one of the IBM i user groups. There you will find real IT folk who use the systems day in, day out. You can talk face-to-face, one-to-one and get a truly open and honest opinion from people who have been there, done that and have, literally, got the IBM i T-shirt.
I started attending one of these user groups a few years ago (NiSUG) and enjoyed it so much I now volunteer to help run it. I can honestly say, hand on heart, I that they are worth the time and effort to attend.
These Power7+ announcements are not just good news for the IBM i world. Our AIX brethren have seen similar improvements in performance and with two new hardware accelerators, one for memory and one for the AIX file system, they too will see significant benefits from the new Power7+ systems.
One thing I do find intriguing is that IBM offers support for AIX 5.3, 6.1 and 7.1 on Power7+. Now as much as I love IBM i 7.1 (and it really is good), if I could wish for just one thing, it would be to see support for V5R4 on Power7+, even if it was just as a guest operating system taking its storage from VIOS. I know IBM has looked into this and said no, but as the AIX crowd can still run version 5.3 of their OS, I can’t help thinking that if IBM really wanted to, it could create PTFs to enable V5R4 support on Power7+ too.
Editor's note: NiSUG are holding a special event at the Mercure Norton Grange Hotel in Rochdale to cover the announcements from IBM on Thursday, February 21. More details on the NiSUG website.