IBM’s New Power Express Lines Raise Some Questions

Power Express 710

Who said RISC servers were expensive? Not IBM. On Feb. 5, the company launched a new “Power Express” line of servers, offering the company’s new POWER 7+ chips at the price of an x86 server.

The Power Express family includes what IBM refers to as some of its Watson technologies, including the POWER chips and some Big Data analytics. In that vein, IBM also announced the IBM PureData System for Analytics, which includes IBM’s Netezza technology for poring through terabytes of enterprise data.

The real breakthrough, of course, is the entry-level price of the Power Express line: $5947.00, or about the price of an x86 server. Four models are available: the 710, 720, 730 and 740. For that, you get your choice of one Power 7+ chip (either a 4-core 3.6 GHz, a 6-core 4.2 GHz or an 8-core 4.2 GHz model), 8 GB of memory (up to 256 GB); and a pair of 146 GB SAS drives. SSDs are an option—for a higher price, of course. Both the 710 and 720 include a single socket, while the 730 adds a pair. While all run the AIX, IBM i and Linux operating systems, that base price doesn’t include the AIX costs: an Express Edition license costs $1,200, and the lowest price for the mandatory service contract, one year, will run customers an additional $300.

“Big data and cloud systems that were once only affordable to large enterprises are now available to the masses,” Rod Adkins, senior vice president of IBM’s Systems & Technology Group, wrote in a statement. “With these new systems, IBM is forging an aggressive expansion of its Power and Storage Systems business into SMB and growth markets.”

The question, of course, is how many small and medium businesses and “growth markets” will want to take on a new infrastructure. IBM sells x86 servers, of course, but the pricing of the POWER line has kept them penned up in some of the largest of enterprises. So-called “commodity” x86 servers have dominated the SMB markets, and for good reason—POWER was unaffordable.

And there may be an additional problem with the POWER architecture: well, power. The POWER 7+ architecture is a beast, with 2.1 billion transistors. The POWER 7+ chip uses 10 MB of L3 cache per core; so choosing a smaller number of cores (and thus less parallelism) will reduce the power. But the bottom line appears to be that the power consumed by the new Express servers has been left undisclosed: it’s been left off of the IBM spec sheet, and the new Express servers haven’t been added to the IBM energy calculator, either. IBM will need to disclose this information before data-center operators can start buying.

IBM also rolled out a number of other products: two new PowerLinux Systems—the 7R1 and 7R2—now optimized for IBM InfoSphere BigInsights and InfoSphere Streams’ Big Data analytics software, plus the 750 and 760 Power Systems for midrange and enterprise clients.

IBM also launched SmartCloud Storage Access, which lets organizations set up secure private storage clouds, and an updated IBM XIV storage system with 12 10GB Ethernet Ports (or 22 1GB Ethernet ports) and up to 6TB of solid state cache. A new real-time compression appliance also offers 5X compression in real-time, with unlimited per appliance software licensing; it supports 10GbE optical, 1GbE copper, or mixed 10GbE and 1GbE connectivity options.

IBM’s new Power Express lines look good on paper, but they appear to hide a couple of question marks. But here’s one piece of good news that data center purchasing managers can take away: any time vendors compete on price, you benefit. Look to the X86 server vendors to begin offering discounts, too.

 

Image: IBM

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