Posts Tagged ‘Uber’

IBM Shouldn’t Forget Its Server Platforms

April 5, 2018

The word coming out of IBM brings a steady patter about cognitive, Watson, and quantum computing, for which IBM predicted quantum would be going mainstream within five years. Most DancingDinosaur readers aren’t worrying about what’s coming in 2023 although maybe they should. They have data centers to run now and are wondering where they are going to get the system horsepower they will need to deliver IoT or Blockchain or any number of business initiatives clamoring for system resources today or tomorrow and all they’ve got are the z14 and the latest LinuxONE. As powerful as they were when first announced, do you think that will be enough tomorrow?

IBM’s latest server, the Z

Timothy Prickett Morgan, analyst at The Next Platform, apparently isn’t so sure. He writes in a recent piece how Google and the other hyperscalers need to add serious power to today’s server options. The solution involves “putting systems based on IBM’s Power9 processor into production.” This shouldn’t take anybody by surprise; almost as soon as IBM set up the Open Power consortium Rackspace, Google, and a handful of others started making noises about using Open POWER for a new type of data center server. The most recent announcements around Power9, covered here back in Feb., promise some new options with even more coming.

Writes Morgan: “Google now has seven applications that have more than 1 billion users – adding Android, Maps, Chrome, and Play to the mix – and as the company told us years ago, it is looking for any compute, storage, and networking edge that will allow it to beat Moore’s Law.” Notice that this isn’t about using POWER9 to drive down Intel’s server prices; Google faces a more important nemesis, the constraints of Moore’s Law.

Google has not been secretive about this, at least not recently. To its credit Google is making its frustrations known at appropriate industry events:  “With a technology trend slowdown and growing demand and changing demand, we have a pretty challenging situation, what we call a supply-demand gap, which means the supply on the technology side is not keeping up with this phenomenal demand growth,” explained Maire Mahony, systems hardware engineer at Google and its key representative at the OpenPower Foundation that is steering the Power ecosystem. “That makes it hard to for us to balance that curve we call performance per TCO dollar. This problem is not unique to Google. This is an industry-wide problem.” True, but the majority of data centers, even the biggest ones, don’t face looming multi-billion user performance and scalability demands.

Morgan continued: “Google has absolutely no choice but to look for every edge. The benefits of homogeneity, which have been paramount for the first decade of hyperscaling, no longer outweigh the need to have hardware that better supports the software companies like Google use in production.”

This isn’t Intel’s problem alone although it introduced a new generation of systems, dubbed Skylake, to address some of these concerns. As Morgan noted recently, “various ARM chips –especially ThunderX2 from Cavium and Centriq 2400 from Qualcomm –can boost non-X86 numbers.” So can AMD’s Epyc X86 processors. Similarly, the Open Power consortium offers an alternative in POWER9.

Morgan went on: IBM differentiated the hardware with its NVLink versions and, depending on the workload and the competition, with its most aggressive pricing and a leaner and cheaper microcode and hypervisor stack reserved for the Linux workloads that the company is chasing. IBM very much wants to sell its Power-Linux combo against Intel’s Xeon-Linux and also keep AMD’s Epyc-Linux at bay. Still, it is not apparent to Morgan how POWER9 will compete.

Success may come down to a battle of vendor ecosystems. As Morgan points out: aside from the POWER9 system that Google co-engineered with Rackspace Hosting, the most important contributions that Google has made to the OpenPower effort is to work with IBM to create the OPAL firmware, the OpenKVM hypervisor, and the OpenBMC baseboard management controller, which are all crafted to support little endian Linux, as is common on x86.

Guess this is the time wade into the endian morass. Endian refers to the byte ordering that is used, and IBM chips and a few others do them in reverse of the x86 and Arm architectures. The Power8 chip and its POWER9 follow-on support either mode, big or little endian. By making all of these changes, IBM has made the Power platform more palatable to the hyperscalers, which is why Google, Tencent, Alibaba, Uber, and PayPal all talk about how they make use of Power machinery, particularly to accelerate machine learning and generic back-end workloads. But as quickly as IBM jumped on the problem recently after letting it linger for years, it remains one more complication that must be considered. Keep that in mind when a hyperscaler like Google talks about performance per TCO dollar.

Where is all this going? Your guess is as good as any. The hyperscalers and the consortia eventually should resolve this and DancingDinosaur will keep watching. Stay tuned.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his work at and here.

IBM LinuxONE Can Uberize x86-Based IT

November 13, 2015

Uberization—industry disruption caused by an unlikely competitor—emerged as a dominant concern of C-suite executives in a recently announced IBM-Institute of Business Value study. According to the study, the percentage of C-suite leaders who expect to contend with competition from outside their industry increased from 43% in 2013 to 54% today.

IBM Csuite Study_Tiles_10_30_2 competition data

These competitors, future Ubers, aren’t just resulting from new permutations of old industries; they also are coming from digital invaders with totally different business models. Consider IBM LinuxONE, a powerful open source Linux z13 mainframe supported by two open communities, the Open Mainframe Project and the Linux Foundation. For the typical mass market Linux shop, usually an x86-based data center, LinuxONE can deliver a standard Linux distribution with both KVM and Ubuntu as part of a new pricing model that offers a pay-per-use option in the form of a fixed monthly payment with costs scaling up or down based on usage. It also offers per-core pricing with software licenses for designated cores.

Talk about disruptive; plus it brings scalability, reliability, high performance, and rock-solid security of the latest mainframe. LinuxONE can handle 8000 virtual servers in a single system, tens of thousands of containers. Try doing that with an x86 machine or even a dozen.

Customers of traditional taxi companies or guests at conventional hotels have had to rethink their transportation or accommodation options in the face of Uberization and the arrival of other disruptive alternatives like Airbnb. So too, x86 platform shops will have to rethink their technology platform options. On either a per-workload basis or a total cost of ownership (TCO) basis, the mainframe has been cost competitive for years. Now with the Uberization of the Linux platform by LinuxONE and IBM’s latest pricing options for it, the time to rethink an x86 platform strategy clearly has arrived. Many long-held misconceptions about the mainframe will have to be dropped or, at least, updated.

The biggest risk to businesses used to come from a new rival with a better or cheaper offering, making it relatively simple to alter strategies. Today, entrenched players are being threatened by new entrants with completely different business models, as well as smaller, more agile players unencumbered by legacy infrastructure. Except for the part of being smaller, IBM’s LinuxONE definitely meets the criteria as a threatening disruptive entrant in the Linux platform space.

IBM even is bring new business models to the effort too, including hybrid cloud and a services-driven approach as well as its new pricing. How about renting a LinuxONE mainframe short term? You can with one of IBM’s new pricing options: just rent a LinuxONE machine monthly with no upfront payment.  At the end of the 36-month rental (can return the hardware after 1 year) you choose to return, buy, or replace. Try that with enterprise-class x86 machines.

The introduction of support for both KVM and Ubuntu on the z platform opens even more possibilities. With the LinuxONE announcement Ubuntu has been elevated to a fully z-supported Linux distribution. Together IBM and Canonical are bringing a distribution of Linux incorporating Ubuntu’s scale-out and cloud expertise on the IBM z Systems platform, further expanding the reach of both. Ubuntu combined with KVM should make LinuxONE very attractive for OpenStack-based hybrid cloud computing that may involve thousands of VMs and containers. And don’t forget a broader range of tools, including an expanded set of open-source and industry tools and software, including Apache Spark, Node.js, MongoDB, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, Chef and Coker.

Deon Newman, VP of Marketing for IBM z Systems, can recite the LinuxONE scalability stats off the top of his head: The entry-level, single-frame LinuxONE server, named Rockhopper, starts at 80 virtual Linux machines, and hundreds and hundreds of containers while the high-end double-frame server, Emperor, features six IFLs that support up to 350 virtual machines and can scale all the way to 8,000 virtual machines. On the Emperor server, you can literally have hundreds of thousands of containers on a single platform. Newman deliberately emphasizes that LinuxONE machines are servers.  x86 server users take note. LinuxONE definitely is not your father’s mainframe.

In the latest C-suite study all C-suite executives—regardless of role—identified for the first time technology as the most important external force impacting their enterprise. These executives believe cloud computing, mobile solutions, the Internet of Things, and cognitive computing are the technologies most likely to revolutionize or Uberize their business.

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






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