Over the last couple of weeks, the System i community has been abuzz over IBM's move to split responsibilities for their server of choice between two new business units. While I will have much to say about the implications of this move in future articles, I want to focus today's column on the hardware announcements that IBM officially released last Tuesday. As you will see, the announcements are packed with information that System i users should also be discussing.
In the Spotlight...POWER6
Among last week's announcements, the clear standout is the new System i Model 570 that can pack up to 16 POWER6 processors running at a screaming 4.7 GHz. That allows the new system to attain a CPW rating (the standard measurement of System i performance) that is 31 percent greater than the POWER5+ version of the Model 570 and 72 percent greater than the POWER5 version. In addition, pricing for the POWER6 model is very attractive. While many of the more powerful Model 570 configurations used to be in the P40 software tier, the POWER6 version resides entirely within the P30 tier. That change will significantly reduce the overall cost of deploying new software licenses on the system.
The new Model 570 also differs from its predecessors in the way that it is packaged. For the POWER6 system, IBM is doing away with Standard and Enterprise Editions. In their place is a single "i5/OS Edition" that includes an i5/OS license for a single processor and licenses to IBM Director and iSeries Access. If customers need to run interactive "green-screen" workloads, they can purchase Enterprise Enablement features on an optional basis. If they want to license other software that used to be part of the Enterprise Edition, they can find that software in two new "Value Packs" that are also optional. In other words, IBM is eliminating the Standard Edition and unbundling the Enterprise Edition, leaving new Model 570 buyers with a more flexible "a la carte" software menu from which to choose.
While the POWER6-based Model 570 is a definite option for some customers, there are several reasons why it is out of the cards for others. First, the new system requires the latest version of i5/OS V5R4. Second, the system cabinet does not support I/O adapters that require an I/O processor (IOP). As a result, IOP-based adapters must be replaced or moved to an external enclosure. Third, the system cabinet supports only new Serial Access SCSI (SAS) disk drives, which forces customers to put non-SAS drives in external enclosures as well. Because of these and other requirements, many existing customers may find it best to upgrade to the POWER5+ version of the system, as it does not impose these limitations. In anticipation of this fact, IBM is encouraging its resellers to come to it for special bid pricing on POWER5+ configurations. In short, ask your IBM representative or Business Partner to prepare a special bid on a POWER5+ configuration for comparison with the POWER6 model. You'll be glad that you did.
New Disk Storage Options
Last week, IBM also unveiled high-capacity, 15,000 RPM disk drives that support both i5/OS and AIX/Linux workloads. The #1269 disk drive supports i5/OS partitions with a capacity of 282 GB, while the #1270 supports AIX/Linux partitions and packs up to 300 GB. Before you rush off to place an order, you should know that both drives are limited to POWER5 and newer models, so they do not run on iSeries 8xx systems. In addition, the drives only run in the newer EXP24 cabinets, not in system cabinets. Moreover, since the new drives put a lot of data under a single disk arm, they will not perform as well as less capacious 15,000 RPM models. As such, customers should do thorough performance planning before deploying the new drives.
Big Blue also announced a new "RAID hot sparing" capability for use with iSeries 800, 825, 870, and 890 models as well as all POWER5 and above models when running i5/OS V5R4. The new feature allows customers to designate a disk drive as a "RAID spare" that automatically takes over for a disk drive that fails in a RAID5 or RAID6 drive set. This improves reliability because customers no longer have to wait until the failed drive is replaced before they can reestablish protection for the drive set.
Besides enhancing its customers' storage options, IBM is also tweaking the capabilities of several feature cards. If you run i5/OS V5R4 on any Model 5xx, your Wide Area Network I/O adapters will no longer need to connect to an I/O processor. This could save you money and card slots. In addition, IBM's disk controllers with 1.5 MB of write cache now support AIX and Linux partitions as well as i5/OS workloads. That could help customers wring more performance out of I/O-intensive workloads that run on these operating systems.
If your company is considering the POWER6-based Model 570, be aware that IBM intends to withdraw selected upgrades to the new system in the coming year. On December 1 of this year, the computer giant will cease to offer upgrades from the Model 825 to the POWER6 Model 570. On April 1, 2008, the company will close the same upgrade path to owners of the Models 870 and 890. By the way, December 1 of this year also marks the date when IBM will cease selling the Model 595 with 1.9 GHz POWER5 processors. Customers who want to buy or upgrade to a Model 595 will need to purchase the POWER5+ version running at 2.3 GHz.
Between the new POWER6 systems that will ship in the coming months and the new directions that IBM is taking in how it manages the System i, the path before us is full of changes. As I said earlier, I'll have plenty to say about those changes in the near future, so stay tuned.