By bringing two product lines together, IBM created exciting possibilities and a few short-term headaches for its customers.
When IBM unified the System i and System p last week, it did much more than change the nameplates on the cabinets of its POWER processor-based servers. It launched massive changes to how it prices, packages, and goes to market with those servers. While some of those changes will become obvious to everyone in short order, others will become apparent only over time. With that in mind, here are seven thoughts about how IBM's announcement will transform life as we know it within the System i community.
Thought #1: Starting today, "i" no longer stands for "island." Because of IBM's announcement, the server and the operating system you rely upon are no longer worlds unto themselves. They have been "mainstreamed" onto a single Power Systems platform that provides equal support for the AIX, i, and Linux operating systems. That could benefit the former System i in an important way. It is now likely that IBM will devote more resources to promoting the i environment alongside AIX and Linux. While there is no guarantee that this will happen, Big Blue is indicating that it will take all three environments to market in campaigns that give equal time to each operating system. It will be interesting to see whether these promising signs translate into the actions we have asked IBM to take for years.
Thought #2: At long last, the era of hardware premiums is over. As a result of the unification, the former Systems i and p now share one set of hardware feature codes with one set of prices. This means there is no more "System i premium" for processors, disk storage, tape drives, adapter cards, or anything else. The same statement applies to hardware maintenance contracts. This ensures that when it comes to hardware prices, Power Systems running i workloads will be truly competitive with UNIX and Windows servers.
Remember, however, that hardware price parity is just one component of competitiveness. To be truly competitive, the i operating system must support modern, Web-enabled workloads at performance levels that equal those of its rivals. While IBM has done a better job lately of delivering that support in i5/OS, it must continue making progress on that front.
Thought #3: Cheaper hardware could help the i platform win back workloads. According to IBM, System i customers spent more than $1.7 billion last year on Windows, UNIX, and Linux servers from vendors other than IBM. Naturally, the computer giant wants to capture a good piece of that business. This year, look for IBM and its Business Partners to mount a substantive campaign to move workloads from their customers' Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun systems. The intended destinations for those workloads will be Intel x86-based BladeCenter blades running Windows and Linux as well as Power Systems running AIX, i, and Linux. Many of the resulting consolidations will present opportunities to migrate workloads to i partitions.
Thought #4: Running i workloads on blades now makes sense for small companies. When IBM announced two months ago that i5/OS would run on its BladeCenter systems, its initial offering was too expensive and complex for many small companies. That offering--a JS22 blade housed in a BladeCenter H chassis--was in the pricey P20 software tier and required an external storage area network (SAN).
Last week, IBM added support for i 6.1 (i5/OS V6R1) to the BladeCenter JS12, a two-core POWER6 blade that is in the P05 software tier. That blade resides in the BladeCenter S, a chassis that houses up to 12 internal disk drives and six blade bays. IBM also announced that it will sell an entry-level configuration of the BladeCenter S with a JS12 blade, internal disk storage, and licenses for 10 i 6.1 users for around $13,000. That puts BladeCenter within the reach of thousands of smaller IBM i customers. It also provides a platform they can use to consolidate Windows workloads from other servers to IBM's x86-based blades.
Thought #5: While the new systems are attractive, the devil is in the details. The Power Systems unification introduces many changes to the way that IBM packages and prices these servers. Unfortunately, it will take months for customers and computer resellers to learn how the new systems differ from those they have worked with for years. Until they do, they will trip over these differences in every system proposal and deal with their sometimes-painful consequences.
Allow me to provide an example. As part of the i/p unification, all Power Systems now come with 9x5 hardware maintenance contracts (the standard on System p models) instead of 24x7 contracts (the standard for the System i). Of course, customers can always upgrade to 24x7 contracts. However, many of them may not know of this change and assume that their new systems come with 24x7 contracts, only to discover that they must pay extra for 24x7 service.
This is just one of several areas where IBM has changed its packaging and unbundled things that used to be bundled. Knowing this, your best strategy is not to assume anything about how the Power System i Editions are configured. Ask your IBM representative or Business Partner to check everything twice, and then do some studying in your own spare time.
Thought #6: It will soon become clear that the new Power Systems are not for everyone. Now that IBM is rolling out a complete line of POWER6-based systems, customers will soon realize that there are both benefits and drawbacks to upgrading to the computer giant's newest hardware. They will discover, for instance, that they cannot keep their old memory cards and may have to buy all new disk drives. They will learn that the POWER6 systems do not support twinaxial cards and earlier versions of the Integrated xSeries Server and that the only tape subsystem available in the POWER6 system cabinet is a 4mm cartridge device.
These and a host of other considerations will lead many companies to consider upgrading to System i models running on POWER5+ processors. In numerous cases, they will discover that such upgrades cost less and incur fewer complications than similar upgrades to POWER6 systems. Indeed, chances are good that last week's Power Systems announcement will increase rather than decrease the number of upgrades within the old System i lineup.
Thought #7: After an adjustment period, the System i community will embrace the Power Systems portfolio. While System i users face some confusing times and tough choices between competing upgrade options, most of them will soon agree that the benefits of the new Power Systems exceed their shortcomings. Unification always involves difficult transition periods and tradeoffs; after all, consider what East and West Germany had to endure in the 1990s. However, few would argue that this union should never have happened. Over the next year, the impressive price/performance, lower energy costs, and expanded virtualization options of the unified Power Systems lineup will win over growing numbers of System i customers.
After 20 years of analyzing and writing about the AS/400, the iSeries, and the System i, I must admit to some sadness that there is no longer a server whose name is synonymous with our favorite operating system. However, it is comforting to see the blood of those venerated products still running in the veins of a new line of more flexible, versatile servers. So in the spirit that has always animated our forward-thinking industry, allow me to declare, "The System i is dead; long live Power Systems and IBM i!"