IBM Encourages Customers to Upgrade Now

Analysis of News Events
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Knowing this, IBM is mounting a campaign to convince customers to upgrade their older iSeries servers and deploy new System i models. While IBM is obviously advancing its own interests via the campaign, there are good reasons why some customers should buy now rather than wait for the new POWER6-based models that will ship next year.

If there is one group of customers who should consider upgrading now rather than later, it is owners of iSeries Model 810 and 825 systems. If you have not heard, IBM is withdrawing all upgrades from these models on December 1 of this year. This means that as of the end of this month, Model 810/825 users will have to replace rather than upgrade their systems. Those who are leasing these models may have to pay termination fees if they need to replace their systems before their leases expire.

The December 1 deadline may cause Model 810/825 owners to grumble that they are being forced to upgrade before IBM rolls out its next generation of systems that sport the POWER6 processor. While this is a legitimate gripe, I doubt that many Model 810/825 owners would choose a POWER6 system even if they could do so. Here are the reasons why.

  • At the least, POWER6 systems will require i5/OS V5R4M5 or the upcoming V6R1 release. As Joel Klebanoff explained in a recent MC Press Online article, customers who upgrade to i5/OS V6R1 will have to put their programs through a conversion process. As Joel notes, not all programs will convert without a hitch.
  • In addition, POWER6 systems will not support a slew of devices that many customers own. These include the #5074/5079 I/O towers, 8GB and 17GB drives, several disk controllers, and a number of older tape drives.
  • It is also highly likely that the POWER6 system cabinets will not support I/O adapters that require an I/O processor (IOP). As a result, customers will have to replace their IOP-based adapters or move them to external enclosures. It is also likely that the POWER6 models will only support Serial Access SCSI (SAS) disk drives within their system cabinets. This will force customers to put non-SAS drives in external enclosures as well.

In short, upgrading to a POWER6 system will not be a cakewalk for most customers. By contrast, the current POWER5+ systems do not impose the support issues described above. In addition, their hardware and software maintenance costs—not to mention power and cooling requirements—are often much lower than those for iSeries 8xx models. As such, Model 810 and 825 owners should seriously consider upgrading to a POWER5+ model by the end of this month while they still have the option.

So...what upgrade paths make the most sense? Many Model 810 users will find the Model 525 with its user-based software pricing to be the optimal choice. If a Model 525 is out of the question because it requires i5/OS V5R4, upgrading to a Model 520 (which supports V5R3) may be the best bet. As for Model 825 users, the logical upgrade path is to the current POWER5+-based Model 550. However, owners of smaller 825s should also consider scrapping (rather than upgrading) their systems for a Model 525 with an unlimited user license. This option could make the most sense for companies whose System i workloads are not growing rapidly.

Before you pick up the phone to call IBM or your local Business Partner, there is one more thing that you should know. IBM has given its sales teams a green light to request special bid pricing on most Model 525 and 550 deals for the rest of this year. From what I am hearing, IBM is particularly willing to slash sticker prices for Model 550 upgrades. As such, you may want to turn down the first proposal that is put on your desk and ask for better pricing via a special bid. In many cases, you will get it.

If you still insist on waiting until IBM ships a full line of POWER6 servers before you upgrade, here is what sources close to Big Blue are telling me about those systems. First off, don't expect a POWER6 announcement early next year. The word around IBM is that the new models will ship no earlier than the middle of the second quarter of 2008. When they do ship, don't expect them to look just like their Model 5xx predecessors with the exception of their faster processors. While some models will be similar to present-day configurations (such as the POWER6-based Model 570 that is already available), others will be stunningly different. This second category will include configurations running on IBM's BladeCenter servers.

To put it another way, next year's POWER6 systems will not be mere "price/performance kickers" that make upgrade decisions simple. They will present customers with new pricing and packaging options, not to mention hardware and software requirements, that will require careful consideration. That is why I am expecting that many customers may opt for more predictable POWER5+ models over the next several months. In more cases than not, those customers may be making the right choice.