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IBM hopes to Power its way to the hybrid cloud

IBM tries the gumbo approach to creating a hybrid cloud: Some Power Systems with a dash of software reorg and a pinch of revamped software licensing.

Just about any major corporate initiative IBM has launched the past couple of years has involved cloud. So when Big Blue rolled out several offerings earlier this month to enhance its hybrid computing strategy, IT pros didn't need to be revived with smelling salts.

At the heart of the strategy, unveiled at IBM's Edge Conference, was a refresh of IBM's Power Systems lineup including the Power System E850 and System E880, the latter of which can scale to 192 cores to run heavy DB2 workloads and cloud deployments more efficiently. IBM also introduced a new PurePower System, a high-end converged infrastructure offering reportedly easier to deploy for a range of compute, networking and storage tasks.

Some analysts see the arrival of the muscled up systems as not only good for attracting newer, cloud-focused users, but also long-time Power users in need of a B12 shot of compute power.

"IBM is looking for new users, but they only update Power every three or four years so there are a substantial number of machines out there that could use a refresh," said Jean Bozman, director of infrastructure research at Neuralytix Inc.

The falling fortunes of the Power Systems has less to do with the lack of raw compute power and more to do with the pricing of Intel-based servers. The aggressive price-performance of Intel systems has enabled the company to gobble up a generous portion of the cloud server market, leaving the proprietary Power System with the crumbs.

"With Intel systems squeezing margins, IBM must find new markets [for Power Systems]," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects Inc., a Washington, D.C. based IT consultancy.

One differentiator is that Power can support eight different computing threads per core where Intel's Xeon chip supports two, said Charles King, president and principal analyst with Pund-IT.

"When you are looking at applications requiring a lot of parallelism, like big data apps, superior thread support makes a big difference," King said.

IBM needs to go after workloads that play to the strength of the Power Systems, such as applications involving major engineering projects, heavy duty analytics processing and data intensive financial transactions.

IBM further bolstered the Power Systems by reorganizing some key middleware offerings under the server-based Systems and Technology Group. By bringing products such as Tivoli, Websphere and zOS into closer proximity with the new server hardware, IBM presents a more cohesive portfolio to sell its cloud-based strategies to corporate users.

"IBM is shifting toward a software and services model, and so [at the Edge Conference] they made it clear it was not all about Power but also pulling in closer assets like Tivoli and zOS," said Krista Macomber, an analyst with Technology Business Research Inc., in Hampton N.H., who focuses on data center issues.

On top of the new hardware and reorganization, IBM also updated its software licensing to push users toward hybrid clouds. Its Websphere Application Server now starts at $166 per month, per core.

Also, users can now freely move monthly licenses among on-premises, public and private clouds as needed, including IBM SoftLayer and third party clouds. IBM also promised delivery of a self-service portal in June so users scale their infrastructure and software license footprint for hybrid deployments.

"With their software model they are trying to make it easier for users to not only get those capabilities as a service, but to be able to port them among systems and between cloud environments as they need them," Macomber said.

At its Edge Conference, IBM preached the benefits of its continued open approach to corporate computing, contending the incorporation of open solutions with its proprietary platforms give users more flexibility in deploying hybrid cloud offerings.

"The Open Power Consortium could be an effective way to [find new markets] by engaging Linux developers," Dzubeck said.

What has helped boost interest in open solutions for Power Systems, for instance, is the OpenPower Foundation. That organization is a collaboration started by IBM that makes all the processor, firmware and software specifications of Power servers available so third parties can create compatible products. IBM reported it has recruited 127 partners in under two years.

Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor at TechTarget. He can be reached at [email protected].

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