IBM Power Systems Winning Streak

With all the attention the zEnterprise has gotten in the past year, IBM Power Systems almost seem like an afterthought, at least in terms of the ink it generates. Back in August, however, IDC noted a rebound in the high end UNIX server market of which Power is a big part. Fueling the rebound apparently is the gradual easing of the recession, which has led organizations to begin revamping their systems, and the Power Systems group has been scoring wins all along.

Whether economic recovery is the driving reason or IBM simply is reaping the benefits of the 2011 refresh of the entire Power Systems product lineup, the Power Systems group experienced a 15% year-over-year share increase and expanding profit margins. It also has cashed in on the mistakes of HP and Oracle to the tune of over 250 competitive displacements, resulting in over $225M of business equally split between former HP and Oracle-Sun customers. In you are interested, click here for IBM’s 3Q11 details.

But the financials, good as they are, aren’t the most interesting Power story. A pair of presentations earlier this year by IBMers Steve Will and Patrick O’Rourke laid out some of the goodies the refreshed platform is delivering. For example, PowerVM can drive over 90% virtualization while VMControl delivers industrial strength automation required to take full advantage of that level of virtualization. At the same time, IBM’s EnergyScale technology can reduce Power Systems energy consumption up to 90%. Meanwhile, IBM also was upgrading to AIX 7, which the company dubbed the future of UNIX. (DancingDinosaur sees Linux as the future of UNIX, but that another post.)

The latest rev of the POWER7 processor offers 4, 6 or 8 cores per socket and up to four threads per core. With up to 4.25 GHz processor speed and an integrated eDRAM L3 cache these systems can fly. And the next rev of the processor already is on the roadmap.

Of course, the Power Systems poster child is Watson, the system built around a set of Power 750 servers that won the Jeopardy challenge. The IBM POWER7 processor is optimized to meet the demands of natural language processing, which is what Watson is all about. The processor can handle thousands of analytical tasks at once combined with massive parallelism in which multiple complex tasks execute simultaneously on individual processor threads. Specifically, Watson used multiple IBM Power 750 servers clustered together, each with four processor sockets containing eight POWER7 cores per socket and four threads per core. And you know the result: Watson won by a mile.

Although the number of Power Systems 750 servers, processor sockets, cores per socket, and threads per core used in Watson may not be your typical Power Systems configuration, IBM insists that the processor was not designed specifically for Watson but can handle a wide range of analytical tasks. IBM already has targeted healthcare, financial services, and call centers as primary use cases for Watson-like capabilities.

The interesting thing about the Power Systems win streak is that it does not include natural language processing workloads. The new wins look more like traditional Power Systems workloads than like Watson. For example, the University of Texas at Austin is attempting to predict river behavior in real time. The system combines river systems data with weather and sensor data to predict a river’s behavior more than 100x the normal speed. The combination of analytics and weather simulation on a Power 7 and generate 100  miles of river simulation in an hour, fast enough for people to get out of the way.

Staples, the office supply superstore, turned to Power Systems running IBM WebSphere Commerce 7 to optimize its website for high volume transactions. Staples saw page performance improved anywhere from 25- 55% with IBM POWER7 Systems, according to the company.

Power Systems can process an enormous number of concurrent transactions and data while analyzing information in real time. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two particularly intense retail shopping days almost upon us, Staples will want all the performance boost they get from the Power platform.

With the introduction of the zEnterprise and hybrid computing and with the recent announcement of x86 blades for the zBX to fill out the multiple zEnterprise hybrid computing platforms, it is easy to forget that Power blades and AIX also can play in this game.

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