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IBM takes another stab with low-priced PowerLinux systems

IBM’s new low-priced Power servers compete with x86 for Linux workloads and may help IBM gain “big data” market share.

IBM’s new PowerLinux systems are priced to compete against x86 systems and have garnered interest from the “big data” market but probably won’t entice Intel shops to move to Power servers.

The latest PowerLinux systems are packaged with partner software for Linux workloads to give potential customers a way to analyze big data, manage industry-specific applications and deliver open-source infrastructure services, the company said.

Pricing for the new systems starts at about $9,800 for one entry-level server chassis. IBM claims this cost less overall than comparable x86 offerings, because it takes fewer of them to run the same workload. Power chips can run four threads per core, compared with Intel Xeon’s two; the cores themselves are also more powerful, running at up to 3.7 GHz where Xeon maxes out at 3.1 GHz.

Will low-priced Power systems stick the landing?
In September 2004, IBM offered cut-rate Power systems targeting open source Linux shops with the OpenPower 720. That server started at $5,000 and was soon followed by the OpenPower 710. Both were withdrawn from the market by May 2006 — less than two years later. The company blamed a lack of sufficient Linux applications and immature virtualization technology.

This time around, IBM expects the Power servers to last because of new features in the Power processor and advances in PowerVM virtualization technology.

“Now, there are more than 9,000 Linux x86 applications that can easily be ported to Power Systems, as well as 1,500 commercial applications and more open source applications already available for PowerLinux,” the company said in an email.

Those who are already sold on Power systems are pleased to have a lower-priced system for Linux workloads, but this won’t necessarily prompt x86 shops to take a second look at Power. That’s because x86 chips have grown more powerful and “stickier” with x86 server virtualization, and enterprise IT customers are firmly entrenched in their choice of platform.

“We’re going down the path of getting rid of our Power series servers,” said Jon Shulda, systems administrator for Rotary International, an organization of service clubs based in Evanston, Ill. “Our ultimate goal is 100% virtualization [on Intel with VMware].”

In general, it’s the application that dictates the platform choice, not the operating system, IT pros said.

“Most of the applications we run on Power are best suited for WebSphere running on AIX,” said Paul Lewis, vice president of technology, architecture and security for Davis + Henderson Corporation Ltd., a financial services provider based in Toronto. “In the Linux world, more applications are built, tuned and performance-tested for x86.”

Big data in the competitive crosshairs
Although lower prices won’t cause a mass migration from x86 to Power systems, IBM may be able to capture a bigger piece of the big data market.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) such as Japan’s FixStar Solutions Inc. have signed on to make appliances combining the new Power offerings with Hadoop to target this market. IBM’s own InfoSphere BigInsights software will also be available in a similar appliance June 15.

“This is an application area IBM can’t afford to just concede to x86,” said Jonathan Eunice, principal IT advisor at Illuminata Inc., an IT advisory firm based in Nashua, N.H.

Power meets converged infrastructure
IBM is offering two new PowerLinux hardware products to start, the first a module for the new PureFlex converged infrastructure offering, the FlexSystem p24L, which contains 8 or 16 64-bit Power7 cores, between 8 GB and 256 GB memory, up to two 2.5-inch hard disks or two 1.8-inch solid-state drives (SSDs) and 2 PCI-E expansion slots. Pricing for PureFlex systems starts at $100,000.

One user who already runs Linux on Power said he’s interested in the p24L.

“When you’re virtualizing today, you have to deal with the SAN, switching, routing, the VM and the OS on top of that,” said Nigel Fortlage, vice president of information technology with GHY International, a brokerage company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. With PureFlex, “you tell it what kind of server you need, and the system worries about the commands for setup.”

IBM has also released the PowerLinux 7R2 Express server, a 2U rackmount device which can hold up to 8 cores at 3.3 or 3.55 GHz, between 8 GB and 256 GB memory, 6 disk or SSD drives, 5 PCI Express 2.0 slots and up to 4 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports. An unpopulated 7R2 is the basis for the sub-$10,000 price quoted above.

By comparison, servers based on Intel’s latest Xeon chips, the E5-2600 series, can support up to 768 GB of memory, pack in 24 disk drives, and support PCI Express 3.0 as well as 10 GbE, and tend to cost in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. IBM countered that its Power systems can access memory faster, at 350 GBps, and said users can purchase an I/O expansion shelf which can hold up to 24 drives for an additional $2,000.

IBM also offers bundles it calls PowerLinux Solutions based on the 7R2. The IBM PowerLinux Open Source Infrastructure Services bundle is priced at $19,560 to $20,960. The PowerLinux Solution Edition for SAP Applications is priced at $21,638 to $26,632. The PowerLinux Big Data Solution for InfoSphere Streams costs $34,638; a PowerLinux Big Data Solution for InfoSphere BigInsights data node $24,294; and a management node is $15,764. These prices include Linux OS and PowerVM licenses.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for and Write to her at

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