IBM Fights Rivals With Aggressive Power Server Prices
IBM entry-level Power 7+ servers now start at $6,000. Netezza analytics platform successor challenges EMC, Oracle and Teradata.
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The sales numbers show that high-end servers from the likes of IBM, Oracle and HP are losing market share to commodity x86 hardware, but IBM isn't raising any white flags.
On Tuesday IBM announced eight new servers powered by its latest Power 7+ processor. The line now starts with an entry-level model that costs less than $6,000--right in line with comparable x86 servers. The company also announced three PureSystem upgrades aimed at big data and private-cloud deployments.
IBM's latest Power 7+ processors, which deliver 2.5 times more cache memory and a 10% to 20% boost in clock speed over Power 7 processors, were introduced in October on two high-end models: the Power 770 and Power 780. The eight new Power 7+ models announced Tuesday span the heart of the high-volume market, starting with the $5,947 710 and moving up to the 750 and 760, which are geared to midsize and larger firms. Prices on the entry-level 710 and 730 are as much as 50% lower than the previous-generation models, according to IBM.
"Our entry-level server pricing is now comparable with X86 pricing for the first time, but it's not just about price," Ian Jarman, IBM's enterprise systems program manager, told InformationWeek. "The Power chip consistently outperforms x86 on per-core performance, and it provides greater efficiency for virtualization."
Servers based on x86 processors are growing ever more powerful, and Intel's next-generation "Ivy Bridge" processor is set for launch later this year. Nonetheless, IBM insists that many compute-intensive applications and virtualization workloads will see best-possible performance on Power servers.
Power Systems run the AIX (Unix), Linux and IBM System I (formerly AS/400) operating systems. Popular uses include SAP enterprise application running on Unix, Infor XA ERP applications running on IBM System I and related database workloads. Entry-level servers are likely to run Web application servers, such as IBM WebSphere.
Performance upgrades and newly aggressive pricing aren't likely to win back customers that have already moved off of Unix--that's a one-way street. But IBM says it's wining many net-new customers in developing markets, such as China. The moves may also help IBM win upgrades among customers that might have otherwise moved off of Unix. The Power line has helped IBM gain "thousands" of Oracle Sun Sparc and HP Itanium Unix customers the last three years, according Jarman.
Indeed, IDC confirms that IBM now holds more than 50% of the high-end Unix server market--an all-time high. But IBM is gaining a larger slice of a shrinking pie. The future for Power Systems lies in its ability to also run multiple operating systems including Linux, according to IDC analyst Jean Bozman.
"For certain workloads, such as database, clustered database, high-performance computing and financial-services applications, the Power servers are quite competitive," Bozman told InformationWeek.
Power Systems servers suffered a 19% decline in revenue in the fourth quarter, but the decline was exacerbated by the paucity of new Power 7+ models and anticipation of the models now being released. Sales are expected to rebound by the second quarter, Mark Loughridge, IBM's senior VP and CFO, told financial analysts last month.
The PureSystems announcements included upgrades to PureData System for Analytics (formerly Netezza), two new PureApplication System for private-cloud application deployment and two new PureFlex System aimed at managed service providers (MSPs).
PureData System for Analytics is a distributed, massively parallel processing platform for big data analytics. This is the new name for IBM Netezza, but the platform still competes head to head with the likes of EMC Greenplum and selected configurations of Oracle Exadata and Teradata. The PureData upgrade delivers three times faster query performance and 50% more data capacity per rack, according to IBM. A big part of the advance is a move from 96 3.5-inch hard drives to 248 faster 2.5-inch drives.
"We have many more disks now feeding into the system to get data off the storage arrays and into the CPUs," Phil Francisco, IBM's VP of big data product management, told InformationWeek. Despite the increase in storage capacity, the system has the same footprint as the previous-generation data warehousing appliance, yet it consumes less power.
A new PureApplications "Mini" model is aimed at organizations with limited budgets and IT resources. The second new model, the PureApplication System on Power 7+, is built on IBM's latest Power Series servers and targets large enterprises that need a platform for rapid private-cloud or conventional deployments of mission-critical transactional applications. Both of these PureApplication models include built-in middleware and management software needed for rapid, private-cloud or on-premises application deployments.
IBM's Managed Service Provider Editions for PureFlex and Flex Systems are aimed at hosted and private-cloud infrastructure providers and they reduce systems admin, setup and operational costs by as much as 50% compared to built-from-scratch systems, according to IBM.
Take all these announcements together and it's a sweeping series of new models from IBM meant to staunch Unix defections while opening up new Linux, big data and cloud-computing opportunities.
Server Market SplitsvilleJust because the server market's in the doldrums doesn't mean innovation has ceased. Far from it -- server technology is enjoying the biggest renaissance since the dawn of x86 systems. But the primary driver is now service providers, not enterprises.
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