IBM Power Systems Buyer's Guide

by Drew Robb

IBM's release of the Power7 processor and a corresponding refresh of Power-based servers earlier this year has steadily breathed new life into what some believed was a stagnant product family. If you're in the market for a Unix server, here's what Big Blue has to offer.

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It isn't easy selling non-x86 equipment these days. According to IDC, that side of the server market has had five quarters in a row of decline -- while at the same time the x86 segment is picking up. On the IBM side, sales weren't helped by the fact that users were waiting for a new line of products.

"IBM experienced weakness in its Power Systems and System z servers as customers waited for the completion of a product refresh cycle for both product sets," said IDC analyst Jean Bozman.

The release of the Power7 processor this year was accompanied by a new line of Power servers, which are broken out in the table at the end of this article. Now that these are on the market, IBM Power sales should pick up.

But another factor may have been influencing sales. Two years ago, IBM brought its System i and p product lines under the IBM Power Systems umbrella. That may have confused some users. However according to Jeff Howard, director of marketing of IBM Power Systems, regardless of these factors, the company has been winning out in this space over the competition.

He cites IDC figures that show IBM extending its lead in the $14 billion UNIX market with a 42.8 percent share that grew share by 1.9 points in the second quarter of 2010. Sun was next at 26.7 percent, followed by HP at 25.2 percent. While IBM has upped its piece of the UNIX pie by 13 percent in the past five years, HP and Sun have both lost ground. This, said Howard, is largely due to the success of the IBM Migration Factory established in 2006. In the second quarter alone, that included 150 from Oracle/Sun and x86 servers from HP.

"IBM is committed to the AIX, i and Linux platforms on Power," said Howard. "Earlier this year, IBM introduced i operating system version 7.1, and a new version of AIX."

Page 2: Power Refresh

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Power Refresh

Over the course of 2010, Big Blue introduced a new lineup of Power servers based on Power7.

"These workload-optimized systems, which are now available and shipping to customers around the world, are designed specifically to handle emerging applications that require real-time processing and management of enormous amounts of data-driven transactions," said Howard. "Scenarios in which an enormous amount of data needs to be captured and analyzed in milliseconds include smart electrical grids, advanced medical research projects and electronic trading."

In February, IBM introduced four systems: the Power 780 for the high end, as well as the Power 770, the Power 755 computing cluster and the Power 750 Express midrange business server. That was followed in April by the BladeCenter PS700, PS701 and PS702 Express, and in August by the high-end Power 795, a new one-socket Power 710 and 720, and two-socket Power 730 and 740 Express models, as well as a Smart Analytics System.

"Power7 addresses innovation at all levels of the stack -- hardware, storage, middleware, systems software," said Howard. "For those nearing capacity limits for energy, space and cooling in data centers, consolidating older systems to the new high-end Power 795 could result in more headroom -- with energy reductions of up to 75 percent for equivalent performance capacity."

Power7 enables four times as many processor cores to be supported compared to Power6. And PowerVM virtualization software makes it possible for users to run more than 1,000 virtual servers on one physical system.

Howard calls attention to the 256-core Power 795, which uses IBM EnergyScale technology to vary the processor frequency depending on workloads. Howard said this makes it five times more energy efficient compared to comparable servers from Oracle and HP. It supports up to 8 terabytes of memory and provides more than four times the performance in the same energy envelope as the fastest Power 595 IBM Power6 processor-based system.

The Power 795 server is designed for large-scale transaction processing and database applications within a virtualized infrastructure. As the most powerful member of the Power family, it may be deployed in configurations ranging from 24- to 256-core systems. Typical net prices for Power 795 hardware may range from approximately $500,000 to more than $5 million for the highest-end versions.

As a point of comparison, the Power 710 Express can start as low as $6,385. This one-socket model provides 8 GB to 64 GB of RAM and up to eight Power7 cores.

Where is IBM taking Power in the future? Howard points out that the company has invested $3.2 billion in Power7 systems in the past three and a half years. This level of investment will continue to fulfill existing roadmaps for this processor and its associated servers.

"IBM continues to make substantial investments in Power Systems as an important, strategic element in the IBM product portfolio," said Howard.

IBM POWER Servers, At a Glance

DescriptionThe BladeCenter PS series are blades for 64-bit applications based on the the IBM Power7 processor.Power7 processor-based servers from IBM
ProcessorFour-, eight- and 16-core 64-bit 3.0 GHz Power7Power7 processors with up to 8 cores per socket and four threads per core
Memory8 to 128 GB8 GB to 8 TB
Operating SystemAIX, IBM i, and Linux for PowerAIX, IBM i, and Linux for Power, except the 755 which is AIX and Linux for Power
Servers BladeCenter PS
700 Express
701 Express
702 Express
Power 710 Express
Power 720 Express
Power 730 Express
Power 740 Express
Power 750 Express
Power 755
Power 770
Power 780
Power 795
PriceStarting at $7,088 for the PS700 Express; $9,788 for the PS701Express; and $18,888 for the PS702 ExpressStarting at $6,385 for the 710 Express; $6,835 for the 720 Express; $15,230 for the 730 Express; $15,767 for the 740 Express; $34,152 for the 750 Express. Call for other prices.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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This article was originally published on Friday Nov 5th 2010
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