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As part of our ongoing series of Q&As with high-tech industry luminaries, ITIC Principal Laura DiDio spoke with Scott Handy, IBM vice president of strategy and business development for PowerLinux. Handy discusses IBM’s latest lineup of PowerLinux products and how they align with Big Blue’s strategy in pivotal market segments like Big Data, Virtualization and cloud computing. Handy is a 20+ year IBM veteran and a longtime Open Source proponent. Prior to this, he was vice president of worldwide Linux and Open Source for IBM. In addition, Scott has held numerous executive, technical sales, marketing, and strategy positions covering Large Accounts, Channels, Small and Medium Business and IBM solutions for Windows NT, Sun Solaris and OS/2 Warp.

Laura DiDio, ITIC: Can you provide us with an overview of IBM’s PowerLinux products and strategy?

Scott Handy: The new PowerLinux products are an extension of IBM’s overall Power Systems strategy. We want to address the Linux x86 markets and generate more growth for Power by providing IBM customers with optimal performance and reliability at an extremely affordable Total Cost of Acquisition (TCA) price point. Linux operating systems already run on Power Systems today, but it is the smallest of the three operating system distributions that IBM Power Systems supports: AIX, IBM i and Linux. We deliberately picked three solution segments to focus on this initially, and that will grow to six by the mid 2013. They are:

  • Big Data Analytics: The Power7 series servers have four (4) threads per core versus Intel’s two (2) threads per core, and can optimize workload performance for platform-kernel, tool chains and libraries. 42% faster sorting a terabyte of data, per IBM Research results.
  • Open Source Infrastructure Services: This includes support for Web, Email, social networks, and faster and improved economics with PowerLinux & PowerVM.
  • Industry Application Solutions: The PowerVM Integration Virtualization manager simplifies and eases deployment and automates most routine daily tasks by providing businesses and their IT departments with a single system to address multiple virtual application and database servers.

Each of these segments offers tangible performance and cost benefits to corporations in a wide variety of vertical markets, including IBM’s traditional core competencies in government, finance and healthcare.

ITIC: How big is PowerLinux in terms of revenue and number of customers? And how fast is this market segment growing within IBM?

SH: IDC (International Data Corp.) data shows that [the worldwide revenue for] Linux is $10B by 2015. Our Linux revenue grew 29% last year in the Power Systems market, and we want to continue to dramatically expand that growth rate. Our initial focus is three solution segments, growing to six by mid-2013. Our initial success in the pilot has proven to us that we have the right value and performance mix to grow the PowerLinux segment. We anticipate PowerLinux will continue to grow faster than the overall Power Systems growth.

ITIC: Describe the target audience for IBM’s PowerSystems Linux-based applications and how you’ll differentiate your products from rivals like VMware in virtualization?

SH: We’re focused on delivering new types of applications and functionality that were not previously available. For example, we’ll enable customers to analyze how their brands are perceived in analytics of blog or posts on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. We’re also aligning the applications with the specific vertical markets. So a bank or financial institution can use the analytic capabilities for better fraud detection.

To accomplish this we felt we needed more [Linux] products priced comparably to x86 offerings. The Linux market segment has a different buying behavior and purchasing patterns. We’ve analyzed that buying behavior, which is much more focused on Total Cost of Acquisition (TCA) and price/performance. We know we have to take price off the table [as a purchasing inhibitor] to get in the door. IBM’s Power Systems group is very focused on companies that use virtualization. We can leverage our economies of scale to compete more effectively. Our PowerVM virtualization for example, is priced 16% below VMware’s competing product.

IBM’s strategy is not to get into a price war with Intel but to compete on hardware, virtualization and superior client value on Big Data, Industry Application Solutions and virtualized Open Source Infrastructure Services (OSIS). The latter (OSIS) is very high volume. Over 50% of companies deploying Linux are using free Open Source solutions. There are over 2,500 open source packages. The top five are LAMP, Open Source Email, SAMBA File/Print (soon to be directory services), edge of network services such as Proxy DNS servers, security and a DNS firewall. These are included free in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). We feel the Power Systems virtualization is superior to VMware in price. And because it’s built into the hardware, there’s less overhead and superior efficiencies; we offer more VMs per server. IBM customers understand the benefits. Finally, IBM Power Systems offer TCA pricing that’s 30% below the competition when virtualized. And 30% below in this space is enough for people who want to move. And there’s no re-training required. We have a lot of customer wins – we’re in five countries already, and we have 118 opportunities and wins in every country that we’ve piloted and in all 3 solution areas we are targeting. Its working.

ITIC: IBM sells industry standard Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise-only servers optimized for the Power server architecture. Will IBM provide technical service and support for PowerLinux customers who implement customized versions of Red Hat and SUSE?

SH: Yes,for custom implementations we will support the back end. Fewer customers are doing significant customization. The majority of users find they can get the required features and functionality in the standard Red Hat and SUSE distributions. About 50% of customers will choose IBM Level 1, 2 or 3 support. They can also sign up for a custom solution support. Currently, we have about one dozen customers with customized Linux implementations on Power Systems. We assist with them with the creation of [the necessary] custom changes, and then they can sign up for integrated support. To prove the point, our first PowerLinux customer win in Japan was with Fixstars, for a Big Data appliance, using Cloudera for Apache Hadoop, running on Yellow Dog Linux. We made it all work with support behind it.

ITIC: IBM’s PowerLinux group focuses on three solution areas: Big data analytics (IBM InfoSphere, Biginsights and Streams), Industry Application Solutions (workload optimization) and Open Source Infrastructure Services. How will you address them?

SH: Big Data analytics is very interesting.About 80% of data is unstructured versus 20% that is structured in a traditional database. However, 80% of the processing is done on 20% of the structured databases. There are new tools – predominantly around Open Source Hadoop framework. You can create new types of applications. The most interesting is the branding around social media. People can understand what’s good about their brand and what’s new about their brand. This includes marketing people who want to put programs in place to accentuate the positive and nullify the negative. Governments are using it to find criminals. It’s also interesting to look at log data around computer usage. We help to improve IT operational efficiency e.g., detailing the issues that cause [system and application] crashes. Less than 20% of IT is software; the rest is people. If you address this you can save companies a lot of money by helping them leverage change management and reduce labor costs.

We got a head start by putting these things on PowerLinux with Watson’s intelligence. Big Data is predominantly a Java-based solution and IBM’s products have twice the memory bandwidth and storage I/O bandwidth compared to Intel. Big Data is not just about playing Jeopardy with Watson. It is useful and applicable in a variety of verticals. For example, hospitals are using advanced medical applications to reference symptoms in newborn infants to predict a medical condition – infections — 24 hours before they occur. Like Big Data, Industry Application Solutions and Open Source Infrastructure Services are all areas that highlight advanced features and provide customers with tangible value.

With Industry Application Solutions, IBM knows that ISVs and OEMs want to bundle hardware and software. That means you have to workload-optimize the systems. We’re either putting accelerators or specific tuning into bundled solutions. Within PowerLinux, we can get memory bandwidth and I/O storage into the chips and feed it. We provide customers with economic value based on the way we optimize the system.

With Open Source Infrastructure Systems we take applications already bundled with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE and improve the performance. One of our early adopters, the University of Hamburg, reported 50 percent better performance and throughput with 30% reduction in TCA versus an x86-based approach.

ITIC: IBM’s Watson has been featured prominently in the news in recent months – particularly after the Jeopardy challenge. What role does Watson play with respect to PowerLinux?

SH: There are two elements: it was a big deal for IBM Research to win the game using Power technology. They ported all the software to PowerLinux that we’re using for Big Data, and this was the first substantiation of the proof points vs x86. What’s even more interesting is that beyond Jeopardy, we’re taking the technology and applying it to real world problems. WellPoint – one of the largest health benefits companies in the United States – leverages it as a mechanism to enable doctors look at much more data and to try and determine the right treatment. Each vertical industry has a unique use case. Citibank signed up with us to use the technology to improve fraud detection and better understand customer activities across many accounts. Customers will also benefit by getting better services and government as well. In addition, Watson interprets speech. Watson has to figure out how the speech was generated. A government agency might use to the technology to understand the context of the speech; this is crucial when you’re spanning the Web. And Watson is performing these functions in all languages, not just American English.

ITIC: What are the specific cost/performance advantages of IBM’s newest PowerLinux servers like the 7R2 compared to competing solutions from Dell and HP?

SH: In general, we have a faster processor that comes in a multitude of flavors such as a 3.7 GHz equipped with better memory and storage I/O bandwidth, and we’re workload- optimizing the system to achieve a total performance/solution advantage. We’re driving real client value.

ITIC: Could you detail how IBM’s POWER7 processors compare to rival Intel processors?

SH: We have basic fundamental improvements – we run four threads per core vs. Intel’s two threads per core. That gives us 50 percent better throughput. We also have the Active Energy Manager, a very sophisticated capability that determines what it needs to run most efficiently. For instance, it will tell IT managers, or can be set to dynamically change, not to use threads or cores that they don’t need.We very intelligently manage the performance and energy usage. On average, an x86 only system utilizes 15 percent energy. An IBM POWER processor can give customers 60 to 80 percent utilization so they’re not wasting power. Our virtualization has so much more capability than competing offerings. We can do shared pools and dedicated shared pools and in 10 milliseconds we can switch it over to the one that thinks it’s dedicated. We adapted this technology from our mainframes, which run at 90% to 100% utilization.

ITIC: Virtualization and Cloud Computing are two critical market segments. How do the latest PowerLinux servers address users’ virtualization and cloud computing needs in terms of additional performance, scalability, reliability and security?

SH: I’m very pleased with a customer – a large hosting company with over 70K servers. They had not purchased any IBM equipment. They asked for two machines and found that the latency was 54 percent less. We also have a virtual machine density advantage – even with 1 virtual machine, IBM Power, PowerLinux achieves 131% better throughput than VMware – more than twice VMware. And when you get to multiple VMs we can get dramatic – 500% improved throughput on multiple servers with 32 virtual machines on a 2-socket server. Also, we’ve found that customers aren’t particularly happy with VMware’s recent price hikes. Customers are telling me that IBM’s unlimited virtual or physical memory per license can save them significant dollars vs VMware’s limit which increments on a 96GB memory total virtual memory limitation per socket regardless of how much physical memory is installed.

Our customers also like the ability to tune Service level Agreements (SLAs) and in a cloud environmentthat’s very important. Our VMs don’t know the other VMs exist so the security is perfect. PowerVM has NO security violations, and VMware has 135 security flaws in the last year. If you’re in a cloud environment and trying to do multi-tenancy, multi-client, security is paramount.

ITIC: IBM’s AIX also runs on PowerSystems servers. Can you differentiate what types of functions and applications are suitable for AIX and where PowerLinux is the better choice?

SH: We have many good AIX customers who have come from Solaris and HP UX environments – over 1,000 customers a year for the last two years. They all went to UNIX if they migrated to us. But many who consider themselves UNIX customers and also buy Linux x86. We picked the workloads for PowerLinux to focus on that are predominantly Linux to attract partners, resellers and ISVs, like Big Data – e.g. Hadoop only runs on x86 so by definition there can be no cannibalization. Our data shows that we have 118 potential customers that have no Power Systems installed, so this is incremental business. And, we’re getting the Linux x86 businesses in a Power account. We have a ton of benchmarks, and in general, the two operating systems are very close in terms of performance. Because our hypervisor is underneath both AIX and Linux, the performance is pretty comparable. The better comparison is between PowerLinux and x86. We’re in a scale-out computing mode when you compete with x86; they can’t keep 1,000 servers up and running, and we can. RHEL and SUSE on PowerLinux will be more reliable on IBM Power Systems than on an x86-based system.

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