The new IBM Power7 System p looked pretty impressive at a recent briefing. So impressive that one System z staffer came up to me and asked: “What does this do to the z?”
The announcement certainly generated a lot of press, much of it focusing on the competition between IBM, HP/Intel, and Sun/Oracle in the high end UNIX market. This year is shaping up to be an enterprise server shootout.
Few seemed concerned about the implications for the System z. On the spec sheet, however, the new Power7 System p family looks potent: up to 8 cores, 32 threads, dynamic memory expansion, automated optimization, impressive SPECint benchmarks, massive software parallelization, support for AIX/Linux/System i (OS/400), and good balance between cores, memory, bandwidth, cache, and more. What’s not to like?
Throughout the briefing the System p engineers emphasized how extensively they integrated and optimized the various hardware, firmware, and software components of the new Power7 machines. Price/performance comparisons showed new optimized systems blowing away aggregations of servers from Itanium, SPARC, and x86-based rivals. IBM makes similar analyses and comes up with comparable results in comparisons between the latest z10 and various collections of HP and Sun machines.
One of the classic strengths of the mainframe is that IBM optimized, virtualized, integrated, and automated z hardware, firmware, middleware, and software from the ground up for the z. Unlike Larry Ellison vowing to optimize Sun hardware to make the most of Oracle’s software, the System z already is optimized and has been for years. Now the new System p is making a similar claim.
In a presentation last June, IBM’s Karl Freund laid out where the different IBM platforms fit in the enterprise systems scheme of things. The mainframe is designated for transaction processing and database applications based on its scalability, high transaction rates, QoS, ability to handle peak workloads, resiliency, and security. IBM’s UNIX platforms like System p are designated for business applications, analytics, and HPC.
OK, I’ll grant HPC should go to UNIX, but business apps and analytics are arguable. Why put WebSphere on z if not for business applications or Cognos for Linux on z if not for BI and analytics? The plain truth: the z and p platforms compete for some workloads.
When asked about the overlap between the z and p platforms IBM executives see no problem: the Power7 System p is for UNIX applications. OK, System z doesn’t run AIX and Power7 System p doesn’t run z/OS, but both can run Linux.
This may become a moot issue when a new System z arrives, as expected, later this year. That’s the hybrid z discussed here last week. It promises, in IBM-speak, to simplify, consolidate, and reduce the costs of managing IT infrastructure by integrating, virtualizing, and coherently managing the multiple and varied heterogeneous processing elements of a deployed business service.
Over the past few months I’ve been speaking with System p users to better understand its appeal. For many that means AIX, which you won’t find on the z. Still, the System z and p stories could become quite entangled this year, especially when you throw in the platform moves of IBM’s competitors. Watch this space as things develop.