Last Monday, IBM added another member to its eServer OpenPower family of servers that significantly reduces the entry cost for 64-bit Linux systems. At a starting price of $3,499, the new eServer OpenPower 710 is a worthy competitor to Linux servers running on processors from Intel and AMD. That price should also catch the attention of IBM's customers who own other POWER servers, including the iSeries and pSeries.
The OpenPower 710 is a rack-mounted server that packs one or two POWER5 processors running at 1.65 GHz and up to 32 GB of memory into a 2U (3.5 inches) space. This makes it similar in processing power and memory capacity to its cousins, the eServer i5 Model 520 and eServer p5 Model 520. Compared to these servers, however, the OpenPower 710 takes up half of the rack space. To achieve the space savings, it offers only four disk bays and three PCI-X adapter slots, half the number of the Model 520s. Customers who need the I/O expandability of the Model 520s can get it from the OpenPower 720, a one- to four-way server in a 4U package.
Like its bigger brother, the OpenPower 710 runs only Linux, but how the two servers run them is what sets them apart. When IBM shipped the Advanced OpenPower Virtualization feature late last year, the OpenPower family gained most of the micropartitioning and dynamic logical partitioning (LPAR) capabilities of the iSeries and pSeries. These capabilities are supported to different degrees by the two Linux distributions that customers can order with an OpenPower system. Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 supports up to 10 LPARs per processor and dynamic resizing of LPARs without a system reboot. Red Hat's Enterprise Linux AS Version 3, Update 4 offers the same number of partitions but does not support dynamic LPARs. Both Linux distributions support virtual LANs and virtual I/O serving across LPARs.
Regardless of the distribution that it runs, the OpenPower 710 will be a solid competitor to servers that run Linux on other processors. When compared to two-way servers that run Intel's Itanium or AMD's Opteron chips, the OpenPower 710 offers more memory capacity than its competitors do. It also offers more reliability features, such as redundant power supplies and cooling fans. In many cases, the server's I/O expansion capabilities are also greater. Early benchmarks indicate that the new model's commercial performance will meet or exceed that of its two-way competitors. Other benchmarks indicate that it will consistently outperform those servers on technical and scientific workloads. While its price puts it in the same cost range as the competitors, its sophisticated LPAR capabilities will allow it to manage more workloads at higher utilization rates than its Intel and AMD rivals.
Though the OpenPower 710 has many advantages over its competitors, it does not offer one thing that they do: support for Microsoft's Windows Server. This gives the competitors an advantage in the sheer number and variety of applications that they support. To address this issue, IBM is working to recruit more ISVs and bring more applications to POWER Linux servers. For instance, the company has announced that SAP now supports its enterprise applications on OpenPower servers. In addition, Oracle is porting its database to OpenPower in the near future. IBM has also created a bundle of Web and network infrastructure applications that OpenPower customers can download for free. The applications are part of OpenPower Consolidation Express, an offering that helps OpenPower users install and configure complete stacks of infrastructure applications on their systems.
Put simply, IBM wants to make OpenPower a contender not only for running commercial and technical applications, but also for workloads that companies have maintained for years on 32-bit Intel servers running Windows. While OpenPower will attract some companies that want to consolidate their infrastructure workloads on Linux, it could also appeal to iSeries and pSeries customers who are looking for an inexpensive enterprise application platform. For instance, customers who run SAP may want to run their application servers on an OpenPower 710 or 720 while maintaining their databases on the iSeries or pSeries.
With its versatility and price/performance, the OpenPower 710 and its larger four-way sibling have some advantages over their competitors. However, what will really matter is whether IBM can translate those advantages into sales through effective marketing and channel strategies. These are areas where IBM is only beginning to get OpenPower off the ground. It will be interesting to see how far the new server family can fly.