IBM Fine-Tunes eServer i5 Family

Analysis of News Events
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When IBM unveils a massive new product line such as the eServer i5, it is easy for seemingly minor announcements to get lost in the noise and confusion that the event creates. As we will see, however, some of these offerings can create considerable value for savvy customers. This week, we'll examine several of these low-key announcements so that you can take advantage of them.

Let's start with an announcement that could benefit customers who need more than a uniprocessor eServer i5. Two months ago, I predicted that IBM would move the two-way version of the eServer i5 Model 520 from the P30 software price tier to the P20 tier. I also predicted that IBM would offer upgrade paths from selected iSeries 8xx models to the two-way Model 520. The good news is that IBM has delivered on both of these fronts. Starting on November 19, the two-way Model 520 will officially join the P20 software tier. On December 10, Big Blue will provide upgrades from iSeries Model 810, 820, and 830 servers to the two-way Model 520. This 6,000 CPW system could figure prominently in the upgrade plans of many customers, though its lack of an upgrade path and its capacity limits could be a cause for concern.

From a financial standpoint, the two-way eServer i5 Model 520 is an attractive upgrade path when compared to an identical two-way Model 550. Both of these models offer 6,000 CPW of batch performance. Both models are in the P20 software tier. Both models come standard with two active processors and one i5/OS license. Both Enterprise Editions come with one processor's worth of 5250 application performance. However, upgrades from the iSeries 810, 820, and 830 to the two-way Model 520 have list prices that are 19% to 78% less than those for upgrades to the two-way Model 550. In addition, the central electronics complex of the Model 520 has monthly maintenance charges that are about 40% lower than those for the Model 550.

While customers can save a bundle by upgrading to the Model 520, the savings come with some limitations. Customers cannot upgrade the two-way Model 520 to a larger eServer i5 model, so they must live with the system for at least two years. In late 2006 or early 2007, IBM should provide upgrade paths from the two-way Model 520 to new POWER6 servers. Until IBM announces those servers, however, Model 520 owners will have to work within the server's 6,000 CPW performance threshold.

The two-way Model 520 has other limitations compared to the Model 550. It supports half of the memory (32 GB versus 64 GB), half of the I/O expansion units and disk storage (19 TB versus 38 TB), and half of the Integrated xSeries Server cards (18 versus 36). Unlike the Model 550, the Model 520 does not offer On Demand processors that users can activate or deactivate to accommodate sudden changes in throughput requirements. If these limitations matter at your site, you should consider whether the Model 550's advantages warrant its higher price tag.

Racking and Mirroring Made Easy

Besides making its two-way Model 520 more attractive, IBM is giving proponents of rack mounting and storage mirroring some reasons to cheer. Starting on March 31, 2005, the company will offer a $400 conversion kit that allows companies to mount their deskside Model 520s and 550s in racks. This represents the first time that owners of the Model 520 Express Edition will be able to rack mount their servers. The new offering could save considerable floor space in many IT shops.

IBM has also announced an offering that makes storage mirroring more financially attractive than it was in the past. For years, iSeries customers have known that they can achieve higher levels of data availability and security by mirroring their disk drives and other I/O components. However, most of them have decided against mirroring their storage subsystems because of the high costs. When IBM announced the eServer i5 Model 595, however, it also announced a new feature code (#5554) that provides 12 of the company's 15,000 RPM disk drives (either 35 GB or 70 GB) and a 2780 disk controller at 50% off the list price. This offering is available to customers for creating storage configurations with mirrored disks and controllers. Any iSeries 8xx or eServer i5 model can support the feature code, though the disk drives will not run in the 5074/5079 expansion towers or on other towers that cannot support 15,000-RPM drives.

As you may have noticed, I said that the new mirroring package runs on the iSeries 8xx and includes a 2780 disk controller. If you are about to say, "But the iSeries doesn't support the 2780," I have news for you. IBM now offers the 2780--which has the same price as the 2757 controller and has a 1 GB read cache--for the iSeries 8xx. You should definitely consider the 2780 if you intend to add more storage to your current iSeries servers.

eServer p5 Gets an i5 Transfusion

As I mentioned in my article two weeks ago, the eServer p5 Models 570, 590, and 595 now support logical partitions (LPARs). IBM is targeting this offering at organizations that run most of their applications on UNIX servers but that also have relatively small iSeries workloads. Indeed, IBM has designed the new offering so that it only makes sense for such firms.

Customers who want to run i5/OS workloads on the eServer p5 should understand a number of configuration and packaging considerations. The following paragraphs list the most important of those considerations.

Hardware Requirements--Customers can only run i5/OS on a single processor of the eServer p5 Model 570 and two processors of the eServer p5 Models 590 and 595. These models must run at the 1.65 GHz clock speed rather than at 1.9 GHz. Under these limits, the Model 570 supports a maximum of 10 LPARs, and the Models 590 and 595 support a maximum of 20 LPARs.

Prices--Customers pay the same $45,000 per-processor charge for i5/OS on the eServer p5 as they do on the eServer i5. This provides a license not only for the i5/OS operating system, but also for the integrated DB2 UDB for iSeries database management system. If you want to run 5250 applications on the i5/OS processors, you must purchase an Enterprise Enablement feature at a cost of $150,000 for each processor that supports the applications.

Storage Subsystems--All OS/400 releases, including i5/OS, manage data using a single-level storage subsystem. This is an entirely different data management architecture than that used by the UNIX-based eServer p5. As such, the eServer p5 processors that run i5/OS must connect to a separate pool of disk storage that resides in its own expansion units. Customers configure this separate pool by placing a no-charge order for the 9411-100 p5 I/O Subsystem for i5/OS. This subsystem supports most of the expansion units, disk storage, and feature cards found on current iSeries 8xx servers. The following table provides specifications and capacities for the 9411-100.

eServer p5 9411-100 Specifications and Capacities
Disk Storage
19 TB
Internal CD/DVD/Tape Drives
External CD/DVD/Tape/Optical Drives
HSL-2/RIO-G Loops
I/O Towers and Drawers
PCI Card Slots
Twinaxial Devices
Communications Lines
LAN Ports
Internal xSeries Servers/Adapter Cards

By limiting i5/OS workloads on the eServer p5 to two processors on its largest systems, IBM is effectively telling customers that this server is an option only for customers with large UNIX workloads and less than 6,000 CPW of iSeries workloads. I doubt that there are more than a 1,000 companies that fit these criteria very well, so the i5/OS support offering should have little impact on iSeries and eServer i5 sales. For qualifying customers, however, the new offering could have some appeal.

This article marks the end (I hope) of a long series of articles about the eServer i5 product family. Now that you have the facts about the family, I encourage you to explore what those facts mean for your hardware acquisition strategy. There is a lot of value in the eServer i5 product line, and I hope these articles help you to realize that value in the months ahead.

Lee Kroon is a Senior Industry Analyst for Andrews Consulting Group, a firm that helps mid-sized companies manage business transformation through technology. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..