In the Wheelhouse: New PureFlex Offering for IBM i Expands Reach to Small Customers

Analysis of News Events
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Today, I'll talk about the new 7.1 Cumulative PTF and how it relates to TR7, new SSD drives, and the PureFlex solution that may answer the consolidation needs of the "small" in SMB. Baby PureFlex? I think so.


Putting on TR7? Maybe Wait for the CUME First

As far as recent IBM i-related announcements go, the software side of the coin has been talked about with regards to IBM i 7.1 Technology Refresh 7 (TR7) in great detail. The only thing I'm going to mention regarding software updates this week will be the cumulative PTF for IBM i 6.1 and 7.1 coming on November 21 and 22, respectively, and how the 7.1 cumerelates to TR7.


Since TR7 became available on November 15, it's important to get your timing right when you get your patches on. I spoke with IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will, who mentioned that the full value of a Technology Refresh that's released very close to a cumulative PTF package is achieved when the "cumulative PTF is installed before or as part of the Technology Refresh update." This is because the newest cumulative package was used to test the Technology Refresh.


With that in mind, if you're scheduling your upcoming PTF updates, you should wait until the weekend of November 22 or later so you can download and apply the Cumulative, Technology Refresh, and any applicable Group PTFs for your system as part of the same upgrade.

New Disk Options Available

In early October, IBM announced some significant hardware news related to I/O, disk, and flash storage and a new PureFlex for IBM i bundle.


For the storage, IBM announced two new flash drives at 387GB and 775GB capacity. As per announcement letter 113-171:


New SFF (2.5-inch) 387 GB and 775 GB SSDs deliver improved price-to-performance ratios and improved spatial density for POWER7 and POWER7+ model 710 through 795. Compared to the already available 387 GB SSD, these SSD can provide up to 2X more IOPS capability and up to 40% improvement to latency. Four 387 GB feature codes (ES10, #ES11, #ES19, and #ES1A) designate SSF-1 or SSF-2 SAS bays and designate if used by AIX/Linux/VIOS or by IBM i. Likewise, four feature codes (#ES0E, #ES0F, #ES0G, and #ES0H) are used for the 775 GB SSD. Additional feature codes are used by PowerLinux 7R1/7R2/7R4 for these 387 GB (#EL00, #EL19) and 775 GB (#EL3E, #EL3G) drives.


In layman's terms, the 387 GB drive has twice as much I/O per second as existing 387 GB drives and 40% improvement to latency. The 775 GB drive essentially doubles the storage of the former 387 GB drives, allowing you to use less physical drives to achieve the same performance.


"To help further encourage flash technology adoption," IBM is giving away two 387 GB SSF SSDs with a new POWER7+ model 770 (9117-MMD) and three with a new POWER7+ model 780 (9179-MHD). The offer also applies for machines that are being upgraded into one of these models.


In my humble opinion, flash technology adoption could greatly be encouraged and appreciated on lower-end models by offering two 387 GB SSF SSD at a lower cost, via deep IBM Business Partner discount on the feature code. The list price for the 387 GB drives on lower-end servers (i.e., E4B) is $3,588, which is about $9/GB and the 775 GB drives are $6,200, about $8/GB. Given the most common Power Systems server running IBM i is the Power 720, this is the real adoption market. If SMB customers were given deeper discounts on those feature codes, you'd see greater adoption. Note I'm not asking for freebies here; I'm only asking IBM to make the price point on the SSDs even more attractive for the smaller, more populated market. Considering the costs for the same drives on the larger machines are $5,640 and $9,746, IBM isn't really losing money by giving away three 775 GB drives on a 780 (real cost being $6,200 x 3 = $18,600) if a customer comes back and buys only two more at list price of $19,492 or more likely 8 or 10 more.


The real value to sell to customers is the performance of Power Systems. With cheap SSDs, why not give the bread-and-butter customers a bigger leg up on the competition in terms of pricing? Or perhaps just deeper discounts so the hardware partners can compete for the business. Consider the perception of consumer SAS SSD drives on x86-64. Cheaper. Far cheaper. IBM would argue you get Power-optimized performance and superior design, yet the perception may still remain in IBM i shops that it's more economical to buy more of the less expensive, slower-spinning drives with a higher amount of arms than make the investment in solid-state technology.


Also announced was a new 1.2 TB 10,000 RPM disk drive that delivers 33% more capacity in the same SAS bay than the previous 10K RPM drive. The new drive offers the increase in storage space plus savings in energy and cooling costs and is available on all servers.


Per IBM: These 1.2/1.1 TB drives are supported on the Power 710 through Power 795 servers and their I/O drawers including POWER7 B and C models and POWER7+ D models. They are supported by 6.1, or later, and IBM i 7.1, or later, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, or later, or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.8, or later.

Baby PureFlex for Small Customers?

Last but not least is the offering that's moving toward the "Baby Pure" I alluded to a few months back. The PureFlex box is designed for the small component of Small to Medium Businesses (SMBs).


Available as of November 15, there'a a new PureFlex Solution for IBM i in the P05 processing tier (YES!), which makes it the most affordable PureFlex system on the market.


Since it's in the P05 processing tier, you shouldn't pay the exorbitant costs you would if you were to move to a P10 or higher processor tier. As you move up in processor tiers, some vendors will charge you more for the same software for no other reason I could think of other than you've potentially got more users running on it since you moved up a notch in terms of horsepower. I will admit digression before I start a real rant more suited for a personal blog.


Back to the new PureFlex offering:


PureFlex Solution for IBM i can be the perfect alternative to complex distributed environments reaping the benefits of centralized management and resource sharing. Instead of maintaining multiple rack or tower systems, you can run your business in a single footprint consisting of a mix of server technologies and workloads including both POWER and x86 based compute nodes. By consolidating their IBM i and Windows applications onto a single integrated business platform, small and midsized clients are offered an attractive alternative to reduce IT costs and complexity.


Sounds great. So what's under the hood?


This system comes with two Power7+ p260 processors with four activated cores and has 8GB of memory (2GB minimum per core) installed with the expansion ability to go to 512GB.


Included in the bundle is a single Xeon x240 processor for x86-64 workloads on Windows or Linux and another x240 node for Flex System Manager.


The overall costs of the components have come down dramatically since the last major PureSystems announcement. The fact that it's in a P05 tier has me thinking: How much were we going to invest in System x this year? Is this new PureFlex an option for my next upgrade? It's certainly getting there. Companies with a Power 720 with a couple of cores and 20 or so x86-64 servers can certainly entertain the option now. For those customers, PureFlex is now viable. Great news!


I'll be learning more about this offering in the coming weeks and will try to give you a better idea of the cost and what the true tipping point would be to move to PureFlex.