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IBM’s latest generation of Power Systems introduced this week are all about “power,” emphasizing:

  • The power to support compute intensive workloads
  • The power to deliver business analytics
  • The power to drive business efficiencies through server consolidation
  • The power to conserve resources by consolidating floor space and lowering energy consumption
  • The power to cut costs by reducing the number of licensing core requirements
  • The power to leverage new product features and capabilities that simplify the IT experience

IBM’s new Power enterprise and entry servers also align with the company’s strategy to address organizations’ need to support compute-intensive workloads and more complex application environments, which include physical, virtual, cloud and mobile environments.

The new solutions – which support IBM’s AIX, and IBM i operating systems, as well as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE Linux Enterprise operating system environments – use the same underlying advanced processor technology that powers its Watson supercomputer, the system so famously displayed in 2011 when it trumped Jeopardy! grand champions during a nationally televised match.

The Watson processor intelligence that powers its systems gives IBM a noticeable advantage. Watson is leagues ahead of all competitors in intelligent data analytics and is at the heart of IBM’s “Smarter Planet” initiative. IBM is adapting Watson for all of its servers to perform accelerated, predictive analysis that is already being used by hospitals, law enforcement and government applications. The fact that IBM is now harnessing the power of Watson and making it available to the masses at an affordable price point bodes well for IBM to expand its presence with Power Systems servers among all classes of users from large enterprises to SMBs.

IBM’s new Power Systems incorporate the POWER7+ processors which leverage a 32 nanometer (nm) architecture that can deliver up to 40% faster performance; 10MB L3 cache per core; enhanced energy and power gating for energy efficiency; support for 20 virtual machines (VMs) per core to support increased granularity and flexibility for large-scale consolidation; enhanced single precision Floating Point for better efficiency and on-chip encryption acceleration for AIX to ensure security performance. There is also a self-healing capability for L3 Cache functions which helps improve reliability. Clock speeds on POWER7+ architecture-based servers range from 3.1GHz to 4.4 GHz; this is the highest clock speed of any enterprise CPU currently available.

The enhancements to the POWER7+ architecture deliver increased application performance, density, and resiliency, to better support enterprise applications in physical, virtual and cloud computing environments.

New and Improved Server Models, Configurations

In all, IBM introduced eight new Power Systems servers, including:

  • IBM Power 750 Express has been redesigned to take advantage of the POWER7+ processor architecture. It features 20% to 40% more performance than comparable 32 core systems and has twice the memory and VM support. The Power 750 comes equipped with up to 32 POWER7+ cores and is available in clock speeds of either 3.5 or 4 GHz and it can support up to 1 TB of memory. These improved capabilities enable businesses to aggressively consolidate servers, save on floor space and cut power consumption. As an added sales inducement, IBM includes three years of 24 x7 service and support with every system sold.
  • IBM Power 760 is a new system in a 5U form factor. It is aimed at organizations with virtualized environments that want to consolidate mission critical application workloads such as SAP. It is outfitted with up to 48 cores running at either 3.1 or 3.4 GHz and can support up to 2 TB of memory. The Power 760 incorporates Processor Upgrade on Demand to support non-disruptive growth and compute-intensive workloads and like several of the other POWER&+ models it also features workload optimizing capabilities to adjust and accommodate the fluctuations in daily usage. As part of the purchase price, IBM installs the system for customers and also supplies businesses with three years of 24 x7 service and support.
  • IBM Power 710 and 730 are high-performance, dense and energy-efficient 1- and 2-socket rack servers, with clock speeds varying from 3.6 to as high as 4.3GHz that come in a space-saving 2U form factor. They are aimed at businesses that want to run multiple applications and infrastructure workloads in virtualized environments.
  • IBM Power 720 and 740 Express are offered at 3.6, or up to 4.2GHz , respectively, and offer more expansion for companies that want small or midsized database servers to support IBM DB2, Oracle or Sybase databases and applications.
  • IBM PowerLinux 7R1 is a space-saving 2U 1-socket server for supporting dedicated Linux workloads. It has been refreshed to support 4, 6 or 8 POWER7+ cores. It delivers up to 4.2GHz speed, has up to 256GB of memory and supports up to 20 VMs per core.
  • IBM PowerLinux 7R2 is a 2U 2-socket server for supporting dedicated Linux workloads that supports up to 16 Power7+ cores at either 3.6GHz or 4.2GHz. It features up to 512 GB of memory and supports up to 20 VMs per core.
  • IBM PureApplication System W1700, part of IBM’s new PureSystems workload-optimized solutions portfolio, uses the POWER7+ architecture to enable organizations to deploy a 3-tier web applications in under 11 minutes, and its Power nodes can also deliver substantial throughput improvements over the x86-based W1500-962 model. The W1700 incorporates compute, network and storage with pattern-based management and an integrated management user interface (UI). It is designed to accelerate and simplify new application and service deliver deployments and facilitate lifecycle management.

Cost Competitive Pricing

The newest IBM Power Servers are also notable for Big Blue’s expanded commitment to embrace small and midsized organizations, as well as large enterprises, by offering configurations of the Power 710 and 730 servers at price points that are cost- competitive with x86-based systems but which are also designed to deliver significantly better levels of performance and reliability. Both the Power 730 and the competing Hewlett-Packard x86-based HP DL380p systems, equipped with 2U 16-cores, 64GB memory and 2 x 140 GB 15Krpm disks have the same list price of $11,033. Differentiations in disk and memory configurations will impact the overall system price as will other factors such as volume discounts.

Reliability is also a crucial factor in determining total cost of ownership (TCO) over the entire server lifespan. During the past four years, IBM AIX and Power Systems have recorded the highest uptime and reliability ratings in ITIC’s annual Server Hardware and Server OS Reliability Surveys. In the latest updated ITIC January 2013 poll, IBM’s AIX v7.1 UNIX OS running on the company’s Power System servers scored the highest reliability ratings and recorded the least amount of overall downtime from Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 outages among 18 different server OS platforms. Specifically, the ITIC survey which polled over 500 organizations worldwide found that 52% of IBM servers, including the Power servers, achieved “five nines” 99.999% uptime; this is the equivalent of one to five minutes of per server/per annum downtime. By contrast, only 39% of survey respondents deploying HP servers achieved the same 99.999% reliability. Reliability is a critical metric that contributes to lowering or raising total cost of ownership (TCO).

Corporate customers interviewed by ITIC say they are equally impressed with the quality and quickness of IBM service, support and documentation when their IT staff log technical support calls.

Analysis

In order to maintain and extend the success of its Systems and Technology Group (STG—hardware division), IBM is now tasked with differentiating its growing array of solutions and services. Although the company has, for the last several years, proactively brought its entry level pricing down in order to compete on a more level playing field with commodity x86-based servers, the perception persists among many rank and file businesses that IBM servers are out of their price range.

To this end, we believe IBM Power Systems executives should continue to focus on:

  • Clearly differentiating the products: IBM’s Power Systems portfolio encompasses a wide range of servers targeted at different classes of users and offering a variety of choices to address physical, virtualized, cloud computing, storage and networking with Power & PureSystems offerings. It’s easy for even stalwart IBM customers to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of these products and announcements, let alone new customers outside of IBM’s traditional bailiwick in government, finance, healthcare and insurance verticals. IBM Power Systems executives must strive to highlight the most important product updates and announcements to customers and emphasize the two or three most crucial products and services per quarter and via their sales and reseller channels and user groups. IBM has always been good about providing guidance but the growing size and diversity of the Power Systems portfolio means it must do even better.
  • Delivering competitive acquisition, licensing and technical support costs: The biggest single criticism leveled at IBM is the cost of its after-market technical service and support. No one expects IBM to offer superior services at Flea Market prices. However, the company has one of the largest service and support organizations in the world, meaning it could and should build goodwill in 2013 by offering special promotions, discounts and bundled incentives to loyal STG customers and even prospective clients. A sizeable segment of the end user population is currently and will continue to be strapped for capital expenditure funds for the foreseeable future.
  • Appeal to small and midsized businesses: IBM is deeply-entrenched among large enterprises in high profile verticals like financial services, healthcare and government, to name just a few. Small and midsized businesses (SMBs) however account for nearly 60 percent of all companies but those with fewer than 500 (small) and 1000 (midsized) users lack the clout and deep pockets of their enterprise counterparts. Collectively, however, their numbers and capital and operational expenditure power are enormous – particularly in emerging geographical regions like Africa, which is a big focus for IBM as whole and STG in particular. Overall, IBM, its current clients and potential customers would all be well-served by specific purchasing and licensing programs that provide aggressive entry-level price points and value-added licensing deals for SMBs.

From a competitive standpoint, ITIC reiterates its prior guidance that IBM continues to score impressive new customer wins – particularly from among legacy Sun Microsystems customers who are disaffected over the changes Oracle has made to pricing, licensing and support contracts since it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010.

However, IBM will have to work harder though to lure customers away from other rivals like HP and Dell which have extremely, loyal committed customers. Despite HP and Dell’s ongoing financial woes, these firms’ customers remain generally very satisfied with pricing, service and support. Much of this is due to the widespread adoption and use of commodity x86-based servers which perform well at a very affordable price point. In order to woo HP and Dell customers to the Power Systems platform, IBM must emphasize the strength and stability of its overarching corporate management which has enabled Big Blue to execute against its product roadmap and strategy and regularly refresh its hardware. IBM should also underscore its’ ongoing commitment to R&D. IBM spends twice as much annually on R&D, about $6 billion to HP’s $3 billion. This in turn, fuels IBM’s ability to accelerate technology advancements like the highest clock speeds in the industry.

Most of all, IBM must illustrate that it can deliver optimum performance and value and still be price/performance competitive with commodity x86-based systems. Additionally, the continuing high reliability of the IBM’s servers lowers ongoing operational and maintenance costs and reduces TCO over the average three-to-four year server lifespan.

Overall, the newest Power Systems and PureApplication System offerings with the POWER7+ architecture deliver tangible and excellent value for all classes of businesses from SMBs to large enterprises. Existing IBM customers and prospective customers alike will be well served by the Power Systems’ improved performance and throughput, improved consolidation, energy efficiency and world class RAS.

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