IBM's Latest iSeries Hardware--A Closer Look

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When IBM unveiled the eServer i5 Model 595 earlier this month, it did a lot more than trot out a new high-end system. It also announced disk storage arrays that connect to the iSeries and eServer i5, a new Integrated xSeries Server (IXS) adapter, and a truckload of details about eServer i5 packaging and pricing. This week, we will sift through those announcements to find the nuggets of information that matter the most to iSeries customers.

Among all the pricing and packaging details that IBM announced, the ones that probably matter the most to high-end customers are those for the eServer i5 Model 595 itself. Last week, I promised that I would compare the price/performance of the Model 595 to its predecessors. This week, I am delivering on that promise. Before I start, however, let me warn you that there are many ways to compare price/performance, especially on high-end servers. You can use prices for the central electronics complex only (often known as the CEC). However, that excludes memory cards, and high-end servers often require six-figure expenditures on memory. If you include the memory cards, however, how much memory should you add? Moreover, what assumptions should you use for configuring disk storage, standby processors, and licenses to various operating systems? Since high-end servers can be configured in so many ways, there are dozens of ways to compare their price/performance. The best thing that any article can do, therefore, is analyze base configurations and then provide some guidance about how price/performance will change as customers add features to those configurations.

With these thoughts in mind, let's start by comparing base configurations (i.e., systems with the minimum memory and disk storage levels) of the eServer i5 Model 595 and the iSeries Model 890. Since the eServer i5 Model 570 has processor features that are in the same performance range as these two high-end systems, let's include those features as well. The following table provides details for the base configurations of the Standard and Enterprise Editions of each model, and then calculates a cost per CPW (IBM's relative performance rating for the iSeries) for each configuration.

 

Packaging and Pricing for iSeries 890 Versus eServer i5 Models 570 and 595
Model Number
Active/Standby
Processors
Performance
Standard Edition
Base Offering
Enterprise Edition
Base Offering
Active Processors2
Processors with i5/OS Licenses3
Base
Price/
Cost per CPW5
Active Processors2
Processors with i5/OS Licenses3
Enterprise Enablement Features4
Base
Price/
Cost per CPW5
890-2497
16/24-way
20000-29300 CPW
16
16
$750,000
$37.50/
CPW
16 + 11
16
NA
(Max 5250 is Standard)
$1,560,000
$78.00/
CPW
890-2498
24/32-way
29300-37400
CPW
24
24
$1,230,000
$41.98/CPW
24 + 11
24
NA
(Max 5250 is Standard)
$2,140,000
$73.04/
CPW
570-0924
9/12-way
25500-33400 CPW
9
4
$339,000
$13.29/
CPW
9 + 11
4
4
$970,000
$38.04/
CPW
570-0926
13/16-way
36300-44700 CPW
13
4
$404,000
$11.13/
CPW
13 + 11
4
4
$1,358,000
$37.41/
CPW
595-0946
8/16-way
24500-45500 CPW
8
4
$783,000
$31.96/
CPW
8 + 11
4
4
$1,549,000
$63.22/
CPW
595-0947
16/32-way
46000-85000 CPW
16
4
$1,436,000
$31.22/CPW
16 + 11
4
4
$2,223,000
$48.33/
CPW
595-0952
32/64-way
86000-165000 CPW
32
4
$2,714,000
$31.56/CPW
32 + 11
4
4
$3,578,000
$41.60/
CPW

1 The number of active processors includes one additional processor activation provided in the Enterprise Edition.
2 Additional processors may be activated at a cost of $15,000 (on the Model 890), $7,700 per processor (on the Model 570), or $21,000 (on the Model 595).
3 Additional i5/OS licenses are available for $45,000 per processor.
4 Additional Enterprise Enablement features may be purchased for the Models 570 and 595 if required. The cost is $150,000. Customers can also purchase maximum 5250 capacity on all active processors for $250,000 (on the Model 570) or $350,000 (on the Model 595).
5 Cost per CPW is calculated by dividing the base price for the minimal configuration of each model by the batch CPW rating for the minimal configuration.

As the table shows, the Model 570 has the lowest cost per CPW of any server in its performance range. The Model 570 is also in the less-expensive P40 software price tier, while the iSeries 890 and Model 595 are in the P50 and P60 tiers. Of course, the Model 570's low cost matters little if you need (or anticipate needing) more performance than the 44,700 CPW that the largest configuration provides. If you are in that elite group, only the Model 595 can meet your requirements.

Let's assume, however, that you are a more typical high-end customer who needs 25,000 to 40,000 CPW. You have some choices and trade-offs to make. You can pick the Model 570 for the lowest cost per CPW, the lowest software price tier, and the lowest memory costs of the three servers. On the other hand, picking the Model 570 will limit your scalability compared to the Model 595. Moreover, if you need to upgrade to the Model 595 (an upgrade that IBM offers), none of your Model 570 memory will migrate to the new server. You will have to buy all new memory, and while your IBM representative may find a way to soften the financial blow of that purchase, Big Blue is not officially offering credits for the old memory cards.

These trade-offs may lead you to consider the eServer i5 Model 595. If so, you will spend less per CPW on a new Model 595 than on a new iSeries 890. By using the figures in the table, I determined that base configurations of the Model 595 Standard Edition have a 15% to 26% lower cost per CPW than the iSeries 890 Standard Edition. For base configurations of the Enterprise Editions of the two models, the cost-per-CPW advantage ranges from 13% to 47%. Remember, however, that cost-per-CPW differences for real world configurations will vary from those for base configurations. Here are three factors that will affect the real-world cost per CPW that you get.

  • Memory prices--On a cost per GB basis, the memory features on the Model 595 are less expensive than those on the Model 890 up to the 8 GB level. However, the Model 595's 16 GB and 32 GB features cost more per GB than Model 890 memory. You can get these features at a cost per GB that is similar to that of the smaller cards but only if you buy 32 of the 16 GB cards or 16 of the 32 GB cards in a single 512 GB lot.
  • Operating system licenses--While the iSeries 890 comes with OS/400 licenses for all of its active processors, the eServer i5 Model 595 comes with only four i5/OS licenses. As such, you may need to purchase more i5/OS licenses on the Model 595 than you would on an iSeries 890. This could slightly reduce your cost-per-CPW advantage over the iSeries 890.
  • Interactive (5250) application requirements--The iSeries 890 Enterprise Edition provides maximum 5250 support on all of its active processors. By contrast, the eServer i5 Model 595 Enterprise Edition comes standard with the equivalent of four processors' worth of 5250 performance. If you need more 5250 capacity than four processors (approximately 12,000 CPW), you will need to buy additional Enterprise Enablement features. This would reduce, though not eliminate, your cost-per-CPW advantage over the iSeries 890.

Besides these three factors, one other factor may have the greatest impact on the cost per CPW you get: the discount that you negotiate with your IBM representative. Server discounts vary widely, and they vary the most on high-end systems like the Model 595. Just keep one thing in mind. Since iSeries revenues for the third quarter were off 26% from what they were a year ago, IBM is pulling out all the stops to increase sales in the fourth quarter. As such, the company will be highly motivated to cut deals with customers over the next two months. Use that motivation to negotiate the best terms, conditions, and pricing for your firm.

Peripherals Join the Product Party

While the spotlights have been on the eServer i5 Model 595 over the last week, other new hardware offerings deserve attention as well. Among them is a new, smaller IXS card that fits in the system units of all eServer i5 models. The card--known as feature code #4811, #4812, or #4813, depending on the eServer i5 model involved--uses the Intel Pentium M processor running at 2.0 GHz and comes standard with 1 GB of memory. The card's low-voltage processor throws off less heat than the Intel Xeon-based IXS that runs in the iSeries 8xx models. This allows it to operate in the close quarters of the rack-mounted eServer i5 models without overheating the systems. The following table compares the new IXS card to its Xeon-based cousin.

A Comparison of Current IXS Cards

IXS for iSeries (FC #4710/4810)
IXS for eServer i5 (FC #4811/4812/4813)
CPU
Intel Xeon, 2.0 GHz, 512 K L2 Cache
Intel Pentium M, 2.0 GHz, 2 MB L2 Cache
Memory
Up to 4 GB memory
Up to 2 GB (1 GB included in base)
Networking
Integrated 10/100 Mbps Ethernet
Integrated dual 1 Gigabit Ethernet
IOP Card
IOP built into card (no slot needed)
IOP required (included at no charge)
HW Support
  • Not supported in eServer i5 CECs
  • Supported in selected I/O towers attached to iSeries or eServer i5 (#5094, #5095/0595, #5088/0588, #5074, #9094)
  • Supported in eServer i5 CECs
  • Supported in selected I/O towers attached to iSeries or eServer i5 (#5094, #5095/0595, #5088/0588, #5074, #9094, and new #5790)
OS Support
Server: OS/400 V5R2, i5/OS V5R3
IXS card: Runs Windows or Linux
Server: i5/OS V5R3 only
IXS card: Runs Windows or Linux
List Price
$2,780 (when purchased with 1 GB of memory)
$2,780 (includes 1 GB of memory and IOP card)

(Source: IBM)  

As the table indicates, there are some benefits and trade-offs involved in using either of the latest IXS cards. The Xeon-based IXS has more memory capacity than the new IXS but does not support Gigabit Ethernet like the new card and does not fit in the eServer i5 system unit. On the other hand, the new card only runs under i5/OS, while the Xeon-based card also runs under OS/400 V5R2. Both cards will run in external I/O towers that attach to either the iSeries or eServer i5. However, the Pentium M IXS card requires two slots: one for the card and another for the IOP adapter. As such, the new IXS card is best suited for the eServer i5 system unit or for the new #5790 PCI-X Expansion Unit that fits in the eServer i5 rack. If you're planning to put IXS cards in an external I/O tower that attaches to an eServer i5, you should give first consideration to the Xeon-based card.

On another front, IBM has announced two new storage arrays that run on POWER processors and attach to the iSeries and the eServer i5. The TotalStorage DS6000 array utilizes 3U-high drives, fits into the eServer i5 racks, and expands from 580 GB up to 67 TB. The TotalStorage DS8000 is a refrigerator-sized unit with an architecture that can scale to multiple petabytes of data. In addition, the DS8000 lets users create logical partitions that enable them to meet unique performance requirements for different workloads and data sets. Both arrays support OS/400 V5R2 and i5/OS and can also support multi-path I/O under i5/OS. The new arrays begin shipping on December 3, 2004, though volume shipments will not begin until early 2005.

With the announcement of these new peripherals and the eServer i5 Model 595, IBM has put the finishing touches on its POWER5 generation of servers. As a result, customers can finally make their buying decisions based on complete information about a complete product line. This means that IBM and its Business Partners should receive many more requests for proposal in the coming months than they did earlier this year. That should help Big Blue in its efforts to turn around iSeries sales in the critically important final quarter of this year.

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..

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