Revamped IBM Power Systems LC Takes on x86

To hear IBM, its revamped and refreshed Power Systems LC lineup will undermine x86 (Intel), HPE, Dell/EMC, and any other purveyor of x86-based systems. Backed by accelerators provided by OpenPower community members, IBM appears ready extend the x86 battle to on premises, in the cloud, and the hybrid cloud. It promises to deliver better performance at lower cost for all the hot workloads too: artificial intelligence, deep learning, high performance data analytics, and compute-heavy workloads.

ibm-power-systems-s821lc

Two POWER8 processors, 1U config, priced 30% less than an x86 server

Almost a year ago, Oct. 2015, DancingDinosaur covered IBM previous Power Systems LC announcement here. The LC designation stands for Linux Community, and the company is tapping accelerators and more from the OpenPower community, just as it did with its recent announcement of POWER9 expected in 2017, here.

The new Power LC systems feature a set of community delivered technologies IBM has dubbed POWERAccel, a family of I/O technologies designed to deliver composable system performance enabled by accelerators. For GPU acceleration the NVDIA NVLink delivers nearly 5x better integration between POWER processors and the NVIDIA GPUs.  For FPGA acceleration IBM tapped its own CAPI architecture to integrate accelerators that run natively as part of the application.

This week’s Power Systems LC announcement features three new machines:

  • S821LC (pictured above)—includes 2 POWER8 sockets in a 1U enclosure and intended for environments requiring dense computing.
  • S822LC—brings 2 POWER8 sockets for big data workloads and adds big data acceleration through CAPI and GPUs.
  • S822LC—intended for high performance computing, it incorporates the new POWER8 processor with the NVDIA NVLink to deliver 2.8x the bandwidth to GPU accelerators and up to 4 integrated NVIDIA Pascal GPUs.

POWER8 with NVLink delivers 2.8 x the bandwidth compared to a PCle data pipe. According to figures provided by IBM comparing the price-performance of the Power S822LC for HPC (20-core, 256 GB, 4x Pascal) with a Dell C4130 (20-core, 256 GB 4xK80) and measured by total queries per hour (gph) the Power System delivered 2.1x better price-performance.  The Power Systems server cost more ($66,612) vs. the Dell ($57,615) but the Power System delivered 444 qph vs. Dell’s 185 qph.

The story plays out similarly for big data workloads running MongoDB on the IBM Power S8221LC for big data (20-core, 128 GB) vs. an HP DL380 (20-core, 128 GB). Here the system cost (server, OS, MongoDB annual subscription) came to $24,870 for IBM Power and $29,915 for HP.  Power provided 40% more performance at a 31% lower hardware/maintenance cost.

When it comes to the cloud the new IBM Power Systems LC offerings get even more interesting from a buyer’s standpoint. IBM declared the cloud a strategic imperative about 2 years ago and needs to demonstrate adoption that can rival the current cloud leaders; AWS, Google, and Microsoft (Azure). To that end IBM has started to tack on free cloud usage.

For example, during the industry analyst launch briefing IBM declared: Modernize your Power infrastructure for the Cloud, get access to IBM Cloud for free and cut your current operating costs by 50%. Whether you’re talking on-premises cloud or hybrid infrastructure the freebies just come. The free built-in cloud deployment service options include:

  • Cloud Provisioning and Automation
  • Infrastructure as a Service
  • Cloud Capacity Pools across Data Centers
  • Hybrid Cloud with BlueMix
  • Automation for DevOps
  • Database as a Service

These cover both on-premises, where you can transform your traditional infrastructure with automation, self-service, and elastic consumption models or a hybrid infrastructure where you can securely extend to Public Cloud with rapid access to compute services and API integration. Other freebies include open source automation, installation and configuration recipes, cross data center inventory, performance monitoring via the IBM Cloud, optional DR as a service for Power, and free access and capacity flexibility with SolfLayer (12 month starter pack).

Will the new LC line and its various cloud freebies get the low cost x86 monkey off IBM’s back? That’s the hope in Armonk. The new LC servers can be acquired at a lower price and can deliver 80% more performance per dollar spent over x86-based systems, according to IBM. This efficiency enables businesses and cloud service providers to lower costs and combat data center sprawl.

DancingDinosaur has developed TCO and ROI analyses comparing mainframe and Power systems to x86 for a decade, maybe more.  A few managers get it, but most, or their staff, have embedded bias and will never accept non-x86 machines. To them, any x86 system always is cheaper regardless of the specs and the math. Not sure even free will change their minds.

The new Power Systems LC lineup is price-advantaged over comparatively configured Intel x86-based servers, costing 30% less in some configurations.  Online LC pricing begins at $5999. Additional models with smaller configurations sport lower pricing through IBM Business Partners. All but the HPC machine are available immediately. The HPC machine will ship Sept. 26.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst and writer. Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing at technologywriter.com and here.

 

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