Posts Tagged ‘HP’

System z Takes BackOffice Role in IBM-Apple Deal

July 21, 2014

DancingDinosaur didn’t have to cut short his vacation and race back last week to cover the IBM-Apple agreement. Yes, it’s a big deal, but as far as System z shops go it won’t have much impact on their data center operations until late this year or 2015 when new mobile enterprise applications apparently will begin to roll out.

The deal, announced last Tuesday, promises “a new class of made-for-business apps targeting specific industry issues or opportunities in retail, healthcare, banking, travel and transportation, telecommunications, and insurance among others,” according to IBM. The mainframe’s role will continue to be what it has been for decades, the backoffice processing workhorse. IBM is not porting iOS to the z or Power or i or any enterprise platform.

Rather, the z will handle transaction processing, security, and data management as it always has. With this deal, however, analytics appears to be assuming a larger role. IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities is one of the jewels it is bringing to the party to be fused with Apple’s legendary consumer experience. IBM expects this combination—big data analytics and consumer experience—to produce apps that can transform specific aspects of how businesses and employees work using iPhone and iPad devices and ultimately, as IBM puts it, enable companies to achieve new levels of efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction—faster and easier than ever before.

In case you missed the point, this deal, or alliance as IBM seems to prefer, is about software and services. If any hardware gets sold as a result, it will be iPhones and iPads. Of course, IBM’s MobileFirst constellation of products and services stand to gain. Mainframe shops have been reporting a steady uptick in transactions originating from mobile devices for several years. This deal won’t slow that trend and might even accelerate it. The IBM-Apple alliance also should streamline and simplify working with and managing Apple’s mobile devices on an enterprise-wide basis.

According to IBM its MobileFirst Platform for iOS will deliver the services required for an end-to-end enterprise capability, from analytics, workflow and cloud storage to enterprise-scale device management, security and integration. Enhanced mobile management includes a private app catalog, data and transaction security services, and a productivity suite for all IBM MobileFirst for iOS offerings. In addition to on premise software solutions, all these services will be available on Bluemix—IBM’s development platform available through the IBM Cloud Marketplace.

One hope from this deal is that IBM will learn from Apple how to design user-friendly software and apply those lessons to the software it subsequently develops for the z and Power Systems. Would be interesting see what Apple software designers might do to simplify using CICS.

Given the increasing acceptance of BYOD when it comes to mobile, data centers will still have to cope with the proliferation of operating systems and devices in the mobile sphere. Nobody is predicting that Android, Amazon, Google, or Microsoft will be exiting the mobile arena as a result, at least not anytime soon.

Finally, a lot of commentators weighed in on who wins or loses in the mobile market. In terms of IBM’s primary enterprise IT competitors Oracle offers the Oracle Mobile Platform. This includes mobile versions of Siebel CRM, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, and a few more. HP offers mobile app development and testing and a set of mobile application services that include planning, architecture, design, build, integration, and testing.

But if you are thinking in terms of enterprise platform winners and losers IBM is the clear winner; the relationship with Apple is an IBM exclusive partnership. No matter how good HP, Oracle, or any of IBM’s other enterprise rivals might be at mobile computing without the tight Apple connection they are at a distinct disadvantage. And that’s before you even consider Bluemix, SoftLayer, MobileFirst, and IBM’s other mobile assets.

BTW, it’s not too early to start planning for IBM Enterprise 2014. Mark your calendar, Oct 6-10 at the Venetian in Las Vegas. This event should be heavily z and Power.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding. Follow him on Twitter @mainframeblog or at

Goodbye Itanium, zEnterprise Continues to Grow

November 8, 2013

The HP announcement earlier this week wasn’t specifically the death knell for Itanium-based systems, but it just as well might have been. Rather, HP disclosed plans to extend the HP NonStop architecture to the Intel x86 platform.  With NonStop to be available on x86 servers, why would anyone even consider the Itanium platform?

Meanwhile, at an IBM analyst briefing at Enterprise 2013 and again this week, IBM rattled off growth figures for the zEnterprise: 56% MIPS growth and 6% revenue growth year-to-year, over 230 new z accounts since the introduction of the hybrid zEnterprise, and over 290 hybrid computing devices shipped including over 200 zBX cabinets.  Linux on z continues to penetrate the mainframe world with 80% of the top 100 mainframe enterprises having IFLs installed. But maybe the best sign of the vitality of the zEnterprise was the news that 33 new ISVs brought product to the z platform in 3Q2013.

Another sign of zEnterprise vitality: over 65,000 students entered the Master the Mainframe competition in the last 8 years.  In addition, over 1000 universities are teaching curriculum related to mainframe topics. Are you worried that you will not be able to find mainframe talent going forward? You probably never thought that the mainframe would be cool.

Recruiters from Cigna, Fidelity, JP Morgan Chase, Baldor, Dillars, Wal-mart, and more have been actively recruiting at schools participating in the Academic Initiative. For example, a senior business leader for switching systems at Visa described the Academic Initiative as a critical success factor and a lifeline for the company’s future.

With regard to the Itanium platform, HP’s announcement is more about trying to salvage the NonStop operating system than to save the Itanium server business.  “Extending HP NonStop to an x86 server platform shows a deep level of investment in maintaining the NonStop technology for mission-critical workloads in financial markets, telecommunications and other industries. At the same time, it brings new levels of availability to the x86-based standardized data center infrastructure,” said Jean Bozman, IDC research VP in the HP announcement.

Certainly for those organizations that require continuous operations on x86 the HP move will be a boon. Otherwise, high availability on x86 has always been something of a kluge. But don’t expect HP  to get anything running overnight.  This is just the latest step in a multi-year HP effort underway since 2011, and it will probably be another two years before everything gets ported and fully tested. HP promises to help customers with migration.

DancingDinosaur’s advice to NonStop customers that are frustrated by the underwhelming performance of Itanium systems today: Jump to the zEnterprise, either zEC12 or zBC12. You are almost certain to qualify for one of the deeply discounted System z Solution Edition deals (includes hardware, software, middleware, and 3 years of maintenance).  And something like IBM’s Migration Factory can help you get there. If it has taken HP two years to get this far, you can probably be up and running on z long before they get the first lines of NonStop code ported to x86.

Meanwhile, the System z team hasn’t been twiddling their collective thumbs.  In addition to introducing the zBC12 in July (shipped in Sept.) and absorbing the CSL International acquisition, which should prove quite valuable in z cloud initiatives, there has been a new IBM Entry Cloud Configuration for SAP Solutions on zEnterprise, a version of IBM Cognos TM1 for financial planning, and improved enterprise key management capabilities based on the Crypto Analytics Tool and the Advanced Crypto Services Provider.

System z growth led the enterprise server pack in the Gartner and IDC quarterly tabulations. Ironically, HP did well too with worldwide server shipments growing by more than 5% in the third quarter, halting a slump of eight consecutive quarters of shipment declines, according to preliminary market data from Gartner. Still, DancingDinosaur doesn’t think anyone will miss Itanium.

Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog

zEnterprise vs. Intel Server Farms

May 17, 2013

How many Intel x86 servers do you need to match the performance of a zEnterprise and at what cost for a given workload? That is the central question every IT manager has to answer.

It is a question that deserves some thought and analysis. Yet often IT managers jump to their decision based on series of gut assumptions that on close analysis are wrong. And the resulting decision more often than not is for the Intel server although an honest assessment of the data in many instances should point the other way. DancingDinosaur has periodically looks at comparative assessments done by IBM. You can find a previous one, lessons from Eagle studies, here.

 The first assumption is that the Intel server is cheaper. But is it? IBM benchmarked a database workload on SQL Server running on Intel x86 and compared it to DB2 on z/OS.  To support 23,000 users, the Intel system required 128 database cores on four HP servers.  The hardware cost $0.34 million and the software cost $1.64 million for a 3-year TCA of $1.98 million. The DB2 system required just 5 cores at a hardware/software combined 3-year TCA of $1.4 million

What should have killed the Intel deal was the software cost, which has to be licensed based on the number of cores. Sure, the commodity hardware was cheap, but the cost of the database licensing drove up the Intel cost. Do IT managers wonder why they need so many Intel cores to support the same number of users they can support with far fewer z cores? Obviously many don’t.

Another area many IT managers overlook is I/O performance and its associated costs. This becomes particularly important as an organization deploys virtual machines.  Increasing the I/O demand on an Intel system uses more of the x86 core for I/O processing, effectively reducing the number of virtual machines that can be deployed per server and raising hardware costs.

The zEnterprise handles I/O differently. It provides 4-16 dedicated system assist processors for the offloading of I/O requests and an I/O subsystem bus speed of 8 GBps.

The z also does well with z/VM for Linux guest workloads. In this case IBM tested three OLTP database production workloads (4 server nodes per cluster), each supporting 6,000 trans/sec, Oracle Enterprise Edition, and Oracle Real Application Cluster (RAC) running on 12 HP DL580 servers (192 cores). This was compared to three Oracle RAC clusters of 4 nodes per cluster with each node as a Linux guest under z/VM . The zEC12 had 27 IFLs. Here the Oracle HP system cost $13.2 million, about twice as much as on the zEC12, $5.7 million. Again, the biggest cost savings came from the need for fewer Oracle licenses due to fewer cores.

The z also does beats Intel servers when running mixed high- and low- priority workloads on the same box. In one example, IBM compared high priority online banking transaction workloads with low priority discretionary workloads.  The workloads running across 3 Intel servers with 40 cores each (120 cores total) cost $13.7 million compared to z/VM on an zEC12 running 32 IFLs, which cost $5.77 million (58% less).

Another comparison demonstrates that core proliferation between Intel and the z is the killer. One large workload test required sixteen 32-way HP Superdome App. Production/Dev/ Test servers and eight 48-way HP Superdome DB Production/Dev/Test for a total of 896 cores. The 5-year TCA came to $180 million. The comparable workload running on a zEC12 41-way production/dev/test system used 41 general purpose processors (38,270 MIPS) with a 5-year TCA of $111 million.

When you look at the things a z can do to keep concurrent operations running that Intel cannot you’d hope non-mainframe IT managers might start to worry. For example, the z handles core sparing transparently; Intel must bring the server down.  The z handles microcode updates while running; Intel can update OS-level drivers but not firmware drivers. Similarly, the z handles memory and bus adapter replacements while running; Intel servers must be brought down to replace either.

Not sure what it will take for the current generation of IT managers to look beyond Intel. Maybe a new business class version of the zEC12 at a stunningly low price. You tell me.

BTW; are you planning to attend IBM Edge 2013 in Las Vegas, Jun 10-14? There will be much there to keep enterprise data center managers occupied.  Overall, IBM Edge 2013 will offer over 140 storage sessions, over 50 PureSystems sessions, more than 50 client case studies, and sessions on big data and analytics along with a full cloud track.  Look for me in the Social Media Lounge at the conference and in the sessions.  You can follow me on Twitter for conference updates@Writer1225.  I’ll be using hashtag #IBMEdge to post live Twitter comments from the conference.

zEnterprise Workload Economics

February 21, 2013

IBM never claims that every workload is suitable for the zEnterprise. However, with the advent of hybrid computing, the low cost z114, and now the expected low cost version of the zEC12 later this year you could make a case for any workload that benefits from the reliability, security, and efficiency of the z is fair game.

John Shedletsky, VP, IBM Competitive Project Office, did not try to make that case. To the contrary, earlier this week he presented the business case for five workloads that are optimum economically and technically on the zEnterprise.  They are:  transaction processing, critical data workloads, batch processing, co-located business analytics, and consolidation-on-one-platform. None of these should be a surprise; possibly with the exception of analytics and consolidated platform they represent traditional mainframe workloads. DancingDinosaur covered Shedletsky’s z cost/workload analysis last year here.

This comes at a time when IBM has started making a lot of noise about new and different workloads on the zEnterprise. Doug Balog, head of IBM System z mainframe group, for example, was quoted widely in the press earlier this month talking about bringing mobile computing workloads to the z. Says Balog in Midsize Insider: “I see there’s a trend in the market we haven’t directly connected to z yet, and that’s this mobile-social platform.”

Actually, this isn’t even all that new either. DancingDinosaur was writing about organizations using SOA to connect CICS apps running on the z to users with mobile devices a few years ago here.

What Shedletsky really demonstrated this week was the cost-efficiency of the zEC12.  In one example he compared a single workload, app production/dev/test running on a 16x, 32-way HP Superdome and an 8x, 48-way Superdome with a zEC12 41-way. The zEC12 delivered the best price/performance by far, $111 million (5yr TCA) for the zEC12 vs. $176 million (5yr TCA) for the two Superdomes.

When running Linux on z workloads with the zEC12 compared to 3 Oracle database workloads (Oracle Enterprise Edition, Oracle RAC, 4 server nodes per cluster) supporting 18K transactions/sec.  running on 12 HP DL580 servers (192 cores) the HP system priced out at $13.2 million (3yr TCA). That compared to a zEC12 running 3 Oracle RAC clusters (4 nodes per cluster, each as a Linux guest) with 27 IFLs, which priced out at $5.7 million (3yr TCA). The zEC12 came in at less than half the cost.

With analytics such a hot topic these days Shedletsky also presented a comparison of the zEnterprise Analytics System 9700 (zEC12, DB2 v10, z/OS, 1 general processor, 1 zIIP) and an IDAA with a current Teradata machine. The result: the Teradata cost $330K/queries per hour compared to $10K/queries per hour.  Workload time for the Teradata was 1,591 seconds for 9.05 queries per hour. That compared to 60.98 seconds and 236 queries per hour on the zEC12. The Teradata total cost was $2.9 million versus $2.3 million for the zEC12.

None of these are what you would consider new workloads, and Shedletsky has yet to apply his cost analysis to mobile or social business workloads. However, the results shouldn’t be much different. Mobile applications, particularly mobile banking and other mobile transaction-oriented applications, will play right into the zEC12 strengths, especially when they are accessing CICS on the back end.

While transaction processing, critical data workloads, batch processing, co-located business analytics, and consolidation-on-one-platform remain the sweet spot for the zEC12, Balog can continue to make his case for mobile and social business on the z. Maybe in the next set of Shedletsky comparative analyses we’ll see some of those workloads come up.

For social business the use cases aren’t quite clear yet. One use case that is emerging, however, is social business big data analytics. Now you can apply the zEC12 to the analytics processing part at least and the efficiencies should be similar.

IBM zEC12 vs. Itanium HP Superdome 2

November 16, 2012

Last week HP introduced its newest, top-of-the-line HP Integrity Superdome 2 server. This is the closest HP offers as a direct rival to the zEnterprise mainframe family.  The new machine is based on HP enhancements and the Intel Itanium processor 9500 series.  It can handle transactions 3x faster than previous generations while using 21% less energy. According to HP, users can realize a 33% savings in TCO over the previous generation of Superdome 2.

The new HP server is part of HP’s Converged Infrastructure, which is designed to provide hybrid computing by supporting its HP-UXHP NonStop and OpenVMS operating systems. Over time, HP notes, the Converged Infrastructure will encompass mission-critical x86 platforms to deliver a single, unified infrastructure for UNIX, Windows Server, and Linux environments.

This sound a lot like IBM’s zEnterprise hybrid computing strategy, which IBM introduced over two years ago through the zEnterprise-zBX combination.  Earlier this week IBM reported over 150 zBX cabinets and 1200 blades have been shipped, somewhat more than the 100+ zBX cabinets IBM had reported shipping a few months back when DancingDinosaur last checked. Clearly, z-based hybrid computing is gaining traction. Today, the IBM top-of-the-line hybrid computing server is the zEC12.

The Intel Itanium 9500 is the latest Itanium processor; the one Oracle prematurely announced dead and planned to stop supporting. It took HP over a year to win its lawsuit against Oracle, currently being appealed, to even get to this point.

The Itanium 9500 indeed is high performance.  It contains 3.1 billion transistors and supports up to 8 cores, twice as many as the previous-generation Itanium. According to published specs, it offers up to 54 MB of on-die memory, and enables up to 2 TB of low voltage DIMMs in four-socket configurations. The Itanium 9500 provides up to 2.4x performance scaling and 33% faster I/O speed over the previous generation, with frequencies ranging from 1.73 GHz at a power level of 130 watts, to 2.53 GHz at 170 watts.

In most key ways, the zEC12 beats the Itanium 9500, starting with its 5.5 GHz core processor and an increase in the number of cores per chip (from 4 to 6). Itanium touts 8 cores per chip but they are slower, half the speed or less.  The zEC12 indeed is faster and brings 101 user-configurable engines. IBM calculates the machine delivers 50% more total capacity in the same footprint.

The zEC12 also supports up to 3TB of RAIM (Redundant Array of Independent Memory), which protects against memory loss. In addition, the processor has been optimized for better software performance, particularly for Java, PL/1, compilers, and DB2.  Like its predecessor it handles out of order instruction processing and multi-level branch prediction for complex workloads. Large caches, almost 2x more on the chip, speed data to the processor. In addition, Flash Express provides 1.6 TB of usable capacity (packaged in pairs for redundancy, 3.2 TB total) to streamline database paging.

The Itanium 9500 chip and HP’s Superdome 2 server certainly won’t be a dog.  Let the chip geeks and benchmark zealots debate the finer technical points in the coming months.  But with the zEC12’s new availability and security enhancements, and a robust hybrid infrastructure it will be hard to beat the zEC12 for almost any mix of workloads, and that may be the key—the wide mix of workloads. While maintaining IBM’s core mainframe strengths in data serving and transaction processing, the zEC12 also brings a scalable and secure data repository for the enterprise, especially with the new Crypto Express4S card.  More than that, it can perform as a private enterprise cloud almost out of the box, and it is also a cost-effective solution for large-scale consolidation. With the zEC12, DB2 for z/OS, and the IBM DB2 Analytics Accelerator (IDAA) you can run both your OLTP and data warehouse workloads as one integrated workload in real time.

And then there is the new Transactional Execution Facility, which IBM brought over from supercomputing and is designed to help eliminate software locking overhead that can impact performance. It uses parallelism to drive higher transaction throughput. IBM’s Java Runtime Environment is expected to exploit the Transactional Execution Facility in an upcoming maintenance release. The new XL C/C++ compiler also is planned to leverage the Transactional Execution Facility. And there is much more.

In short, DancingDinosaur does not expect z shops to flock to Itanium.  However, a little reinvigorated competition is always good to drive innovation and restrain pricing.

HP-UX and AIX : The Difference is POWER7

July 10, 2012

HP’s enterprise-class UNIX operating system, HP-UX, faces a stark future compared to IBM’s AIX. The difference comes down to the vitality of the underlying platforms. IBM runs AIX on the POWER platform, now at POWER7 and evolving to POWER8 and even POWER9 (although the naming may change)—a dynamic platform if ever there was one. Meanwhile, HP-UX has been effectively stranded on the withering Itanium platform. Oracle has stopped development for Itanium, and Intel, HP’s partner in Itanium, has been, at best, lackluster in its support.

It not clear whether HP-UX is a better UNIX than AIX, but in an industry driven by ever increasing demands for speed, throughput, cost-efficiency, and energy efficiency, the underlying platform matters. HP-UX customers surely will outgrow their Itanium-based systems without a platform boost.

“There’s no question that [our] Business Critical Server business has been hurt by this,” said HP CEO Meg Whitman in the transcript of an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s All Things D column. The business, which had been growing 10% a year before Oracle spurned further support of Itanium now is declining by 20-30% a year (Ouch!).  So Whitman is counting on two things: 1) winning its lawsuit against Oracle, which is still making its way through the courts and 2) porting HP-UX to an advanced x86 platform, namely Xeon. “Ultimately we’ve got to build UNIX on a Xeon chip, and so we will do that,” she told All Things D. All spring long there had been hints that this was imminent, but an official HP announcement never materialized.

Of course Oracle wants the HP customers running Oracle on HP-UX with Itanium to jump to its Sun platform.  IBM, however, has been wooing and winning those same customers to its System z or POWER platforms. Oracle runs on both the z and POWER platforms.  Running Oracle on Linux on System z yields substantial savings on Oracle licensing. But IBM wants to do even better by migrating the Oracle shops to DB2 as well, with incentives and tools to ease the transition.

What HP customers also get when they move to POWER or to the z is a platform in both cases with a real platform future, unlike either Itanium or Sun’s server platforms. DancingDinosaur has long extolled the zEnterprise and hybrid computing, but POWER is dynamic in its own right and when you look at the role it now plays in IBM’s new PureSystems, another IBM hybrid platform, POWER becomes all that more attractive.

From the start HP with HP-UX and Itanium was bound to have to settle for compromises given the different parties—HP, Intel, Oracle—involved. With POWER7, IBM system developers got exactly what they wanted, no compromises. “We gave the silicon designers a bunch of requirements and they gave us our wish list,” says Ian Robinson, IBM’s PowerVM virtualization and cloud product line manager. As a result POWER7, which runs AIX, Linux, and System i on the same box, got a slew of capabilities, including more memory bandwidth and better ways to divide cores.

POWER7, which amazed the IT world with its stunning Watson victory at Jeopardy, also is turning out to be an ideal virtualization and cloud machine. The rate of virtualization and cloud adoption by POWER7 shops is running something north of 90%, notes Robinson. The adoption of PowerVM, the POWER7 hypervisor built in at both the motherboard and firmware levels is close to 100%. And now POWER7 is a key component of IBM’s PureFlex initiative, a major IBM strategic direction.

Meanwhile, Whitman is fighting a costly court battle in the hope of coercing grudging support for the Itanium platform from Oracle. The trial began in June and mud has been flying ever since. Even if HP wins the case, don’t expect the story to end soon. Using appeals and delay tactics Oracle could put off the final outcome so long that Itanium will have shriveled to nothing while POWER7 continues along IBM’s ambitious roadmap.


May 23, 2012

EMC introduced the latest addition to its top mainframe Symmetrix storage, the VMAX 40K, which can scale to 4PB and is intended for extreme scalable environments. EMC claims the new device will deliver up to 3X more performance and more than 2X more usable capacity than any other offering in the industry. By configuring it with 2.5″ SAS drives and MLC (eMLC) Flash drives the device can also deliver the most densely packed storage.

The VMAX 40K, according to EMC, can store 60% more data than the Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform and 74% more than the IBM System Storage DS8000. The DS8000 today has a maximum capacity of 2.3PB. The Hitachi VSP tops out at 2.5PB.

If sheer capacity is the only issue, last summer word got out that IBM’s Almaden Lab delivered a 120PB array consisting of 200,000 SAS disk drives (rather than SATA) to ensure better performance for an unnamed client. Reports at that time also suggested the giant array was using IBM’s new General Parallel File System (GPFS), capable of indexing 10 billion files in just 43 minutes. The client and the use case have not been identified but the specs clearly suggest an extreme Big Data analytics situation.

For general enterprise computing as done by mainframe shops there is more to storage than just sheer capacity.  For zEnterprise shops, the issue is how well optimized the EMC storage is for other parts of the System z.  The zEnterprise already is highly optimized across its memory, processors, firmware, and networks as well as DS8000 storage.

As of the first quarter of this year IBM reports that the DS8000 supported the following capabilities that the EMC Symmetrix does not:

  • Dynamic Volume Expansion
  • Basic Hyper Swap
  • zHPF—QSAM, BSAM, BPAM, format writes, DB2 list prefetch cache optimization
  • Sub-volume tiering for CKD volumes
  • zDAC performance optimization
  • IMS WADS enhanced performance
  • Workload Manager I/O performance support
  • Metro Mirror suspension –message aggregation

If these capabilities are used in your data center, then the new EMC storage won’t work without extra effort on your part no matter how much capacity it delivers.

The VMAX 40K, however, does offer some nifty features, such as new Federated Tiered Storage (FTS) for VMAX through which external arrays can be used either as capacity pools for FAST VP (Fully Automated Storage Tiering for Virtual Pools) or managed as pass-through devices. FAST VP also now supports the System z and IBM i servers. Of course, IBM already delivers such storage tiering through EasyTier.

It is hard to assess how the VMAX 40K will work in the mainframe environment based on the spec sheet.  And without pricing and workload benchmark data it is not possible to make an accurate assessment.

Still EMC rivals are decidedly cool. To HP, for instance, the VMAX 40K looks like a typical EMC midlife kicker; nothing surprising here, said an HP manager. He added that this does not change the fact that the EMC architecture is aging, and it doesn’t fundamentally change the economics of VMAX. HP, he notes, is beating VMAX head to head more and more with 3PAR based on its architectural advantage and newer technology. The HP mainframe storage is a Hitachi box, the P9500 XP Disk Array.

An IBMer, similarly, described the VMAX 40K as a business-as-usual, next-generation disk system announcement with new hardware and a few new functions.  It still doesn’t appear to address the unsupported z capabilities noted above. The new EMC storage doesn’t do enough to offset advantages DS8000 offers mainframe shops today.

The introduction of the VMAX 40K, however, raises a larger question.  In an increasingly scale-out world (as opposed to scale-up), do enterprises really need to load multi-petabytes of storage into a single frame?  IBM recently boosted its SmartCloud offerings for enterprise computing.  Will IBM put the zEnterprise and DS8000 storage up there too?

Server Wars: zEnterprise vs. Oracle and HP

March 2, 2012

In the server market, especially the enterprise server market, IBM’s only serious rivals are HP and Oracle, and the latest Gartner tally shows IBM with z and Power clearly pulling ahead. According to Gartner, IBM was the 2011 market leader in the worldwide server market based on revenue, ending the year with $4.7 billion in revenue in the last quarter of 2011 for a total share of 33.7%.

Among enterprise-class RISC servers the results were problematic, except for IBM. Noted Gartner: Overall, RISC and Itanium UNIX revenue decreased 3.9% in the fourth quarter of 2011, although this top-level figure does not tell the whole story. HP had weak results in this segment, but IBM is benefiting from the difficulties of other vendors and consolidating its lead. IBM grew RISC/Itanium UNIX revenue by 21.4% and ended the fourth quarter with a 48.4% share of revenue in this segment.

The bad decisions HP has made, especially announcements to kill WebOS and its tablet devices and its decision to get out of the PC business, have finally hit home.  The company’s 1Q2012 financials were dismal.  Revenue was down 7% while earning per share dropped 32%.

Compared to the HP results, IBM had a good quarter, announcing fourth-quarter 2011 diluted earnings of $4.62 per share, compared with diluted earnings of $4.18 per share in the fourth quarter of 2010, an increase of 11%. Fourth-quarter net income was $5.5 billion compared with $5.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010, an increase of 4%. Operating (non-GAAP) net income was $5.6 billion compared with $5.4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010, an increase of 5%.

All this despite a weak quarter for IBM’s hardware group, which reported revenues of $5.8 billion for the quarter, down 8% from the year before. The group’s pre-tax income was $790 million, a decrease of 33% due mainly to unexpectedly weak mainframe sales following a streak of record setting mainframe quarterly gains. Gartner attributes this “largely due to cyclical weakness in its System z product line.” If that’s the case, Gartner must be expecting a new rev of the zEnterprise in 18 months. Let’s hope.

Based on anecdotal evidence from discussions with data center managers, DancingDinosaur is expecting System z sales to pick up before that. Some managers have reported delaying upgrades of their existing z until the economy more clearly rebounds. Others have been sniffing around the zBX, curious to kick the tires of hybrid computing. All they need is a good business case and maybe an incentive. DancingDinosaur would like to see a discounted zBX offer with a little more punch than a couple of free blades, maybe bundled into a Solution Edition package.

In the meantime, IBM continues to compete with HP and Oracle/Sun for high end server sales. That puts the z196 against Oracle’s SPARC SuperCluster T4-4. Oracle describes it as the world’s fastest general purpose engineered system that delivers high performance, availability, scalability and security across a wide range of enterprise applications, including database, middleware, and Oracle and custom applications. The SuperCluster T4-4, according to Oracle, provides a completely optimized package of servers, storage and software that integrates with Oracle Exadata Storage Servers and Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud while utilizing the Oracle ZFS Storage Appliance, InfiniBand I/O fabric, and Oracle Solaris 11. Sound nice except IBM has been optimizing the System z for multiple workloads for years.

HP offers the Integrity Superdome 2. It is built around a modular, blade design, a fault-tolerant Crossbar fabric, and 64-socket scalability that handles 256 cores (more in a future release.) It promises a low entry price (unspecified—so unable to compare with the $75k z114), but its processors run significantly slower than zEnterprise processors.

Actually, it looks like HP is betting its server future on a new line, the HP ProLiant Generation 8 (Gen8). These servers represent an effort to redefine data center economics by automating every aspect of the server life cycle and spawned a new systems architecture, the HP ProActive Insight architecture, which will span the entire HP Converged Infrastructure. The servers will include integrated lifecycle automation that HP estimates can save 30 days of admin time each year per admin; dynamic workload acceleration, which can boost performance 7x; and automated energy optimization, which HP promises will nearly double compute-per-watt capacity, thereby saving an estimated $7 million in energy costs in a typical data center over three years This clearly is where HP expects to compete—against commodity x86-based machines.

DancingDinosaur sees this kind of competition as only good for enterprises that depend on IT.

IBM zBX Blades Cheap (Free!)

December 8, 2011

T’is the season of discounts, and it apparently applies to the zEnterprise as much as it does to holiday gifts. This deal, however, does not appear to end with the holiday. DancingDinosaur supports anything IBM does to lower enterprise data center costs.

Here’s the deal: migrate competitive workloads to the zEnterprise Blade Center Extension (zBX) and you can receive up to six zBX Power or x86 blades for free. So, replace 2, 4, even 6 HP UX or Linux Systems or x86 servers (remember, there are now Windows blades) and receive an equal number of free Power or x86 blades to run in the zBX. The deal focuses on HP, but IBM staff says it applies to Oracle/Sun systems too. Given a $5000 cost for low end x86 blades, that could amount to a $30,000 discount on top of whatever other discounts IBM will throw in. For high end, more richly configured blade replacements it could come to much more.

Of course, you need a zEnterprise (z196 or z114) and to buy a new zBX to cash in on this. But, if you took a deeply discounted System z under the IBM Solution Edition program you could get in at a bargain price. And if your choice was a z114, IBM also is offering the DS8800 storage system for the z114 at an attractive entry price.

The deals are being offered under IBM’s Freedom by Design  program. IBMer Paulo Carvao details the blade offer here in a presentation titled System z: Delivering on the Promise of Smarter Computing. Check out slide #15.

Even without free blades, the z makes an attractive consolidation play. According to IBM you can consolidate an average of 30 distributed servers or more on a single z114 core, or hundreds in a single footprint. In effect, you can deliver a virtual Linux server for approximately $500 per year, which works out to be as little as $1.45 per day per virtual server. If you are consolidating Oracle servers, the savings in Oracle licensing costs alone would cover a big chunk of the investment.

A dearth of zBX blade performance data, however, has slowed zBX adoption for some. A little performance data, however, has started to trickle in. For instance, some recent results came from an Italian company that moved its SAP workload to POWER7 blades on a zBX. It was able to boost bill processing from 60K per hour to 430K per hour, better than a 7x increase.

In general, IBM blade performance in the zBX should be the same as the performance in its standard blade centers. Actually, it might be a little better since the consolidated zEnterprise-zBX combination can cut down the number of network hops in some situations. And IBM insists zBX blades are priced competitively like its standard IBM blades. And then there are the free blades with a competitive upgrade, with which no one will quibble.

While on the subject of zEnterprise deals, the regular prices of specialty engines continues to be a MIPS bargain, delivering more MIPS for the money than earlier versions. One customer used the increased MIPS from zEnterprise specialty engines to reduce the number of cores the company bought, which resulted in a substantially lower acquisition cost with no reduction in overall MIPS. With the right workloads, this is a very effective cost saving strategy.

Oracle T4–No POWER7 or zEnterprise Killer

October 11, 2011

Oracle finally introduced its latest SPARC server line, the T4, in September. Contrary to the boasts of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison over the past several years, the new server line is no System z or System p killer. To the contrary, it might be too little too late to put a significant dent in the ongoing migration away from the Oracle/Sun SPARC hardware platform.

For sure, the new latest SPARC offers solid performance. Optimized for single-threaded workloads and for running Oracle database applications, the T4 apparently is intended for the consolidation of multiple application tiers onto a single server. Oracle claims SPARC T4 servers deliver outstanding performance against IBM POWER7 and HP Itanium-based systems. In data warehousing, Oracle reports the SPARC T4-4 server delivered over 2.4x better performance per socket than the IBM Power 780, 33% better price/performance.

Since the acquisition of Sun two years ago, Oracle has promised that it was committed to and capable of optimizing the hardware platform for its software. That hardware-software optimization—something IBM has been doing for years—would deliver the platform payoff.

With the SPARC T4 Oracle announced new versions of three SPARC T4 server-based Oracle optimized products. The products promise superior performance and value from Oracle’s fully integrated, pre-tested offerings. These include an Oracle database package, a JD Edwards EnterpriseOne package, and an Oracle WebLogic suite. For each, Oracle boasted better performance at lower cost than the systems running on IBM POWER7.

Any vendor-published benchmarks must always be suspect. There are just too many ways a vendor can bias benchmarks by tweaking the configuration, such as increasing cache or slipping in some SSD. Even the fine print that should accompany the results won’t necessarily reveal the bias. Dancingdinosaur once trained as a benchmark auditor and even then it’s easy to slip slight configuration tweaks past.

Here is a response by Conor O’Mahony, an IBMer, to one of Oracle’s many benchmarking announcements in the past couple of weeks. It shows how you have to parse these kinds of announcements. Let’s look at the announcement around Oracle’s SPARC SuperCluster and their latest SPECjEnterprise2010 benchmark result. First off, it turns out that Oracle did not actually use their SPARC SuperCluster for either that benchmark result or their TPC-H benchmark result. They assembled a system that is similar to the SuperCluster, but it is not the SuperCluster. (Instead of using the ZFS storage appliance, this benchmark uses F5100 flash arrays to store the database completely on solid state drives!!)

In that announcement, a SPECjEnterprise2010 benchmark result beat IBM’s best performance result in the same benchmark by over 2.4 times, delivered 20% higher performance per processor than IBM POWER7, and supposedly delivered 6.7 times better price/performance. Yes, Oracle does have a better benchmark result, but they also used a lot more hardware to get there.  O’Mahony’s full analysis can be found here.

Oracle, for example, didn’t just use twice as many processor cores for this benchmark. They also used substantially more server memory, additional storage processors, more storage memory, more hard disk drives, and solid state drives. And they disabled integrity checking to boost performance. Would you do that in a production system?

The other thing to be aware of is how Oracle derived their pricing analysis. That analysis did not compare the total costs for these systems; instead it compared only the application server portion of the costs. In other words, they chose to not consider the cost of the database software (which includes licensing both Oracle Database and Oracle RAC on 64 processor cores). If they did add that cost, the conclusions would have been very different.

The best you can say about the SPARC T4 at this point is that Oracle SPARC is back as a serious hardware competitor. That’s actually good for System z and p shops because it will keep price pressure on IBM. It will, however, take case studies of legitimate clients running actual configurations for real workloads and paying true prices before anyone can really gauge the price/performance of the T4 servers.


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