IBM announced a new Power7 upgrade path to help the IBM Power AIX server customers plan for an uncertain Unix future.
IBM Power shops that purchase
new Power6-based 570 or 595 servers will be eligible to upgrade those systems to new Power7 chips by simply replacing the "books" that contain the processors, memory and system controllers. According to IBM, 45-nanometer Power7 processors will come in four-, six- and eight-core versions, and offer two to three times the performance of Power6 using the same amount of energy.
The new chips will also include PowerVM enhancements that allow clients to consolidate up to 1,000 virtual machines on a single system.
Uncertainty in the Unix server landscape
Unix systems customers currently face unprecedented uncertainties. Some are competitive, with most of the pressure coming from below in the form of increasingly able x86/64-based servers. New-generation processors designed to support particularly robust virtualization, such as Intel's Xeon 5500 (Nehalem) chips, are likely to ratchet up the pressure even higher.
But much or even most Unix uncertainty is entirely systemic. On the RISC side of the market, Oracle's brewing acquisition of Sun Microsystems has many in the industry questioning the company's plans for or dedication to Sun's UltraSPARC technologies. Even if Oracle fully supports Sun's traditional platforms, technologies and customers (as CEO Larry Ellison publicly insists it will), many people doubt Oracle's ability to effectively run -- let alone turn around -- Sun's troubled hardware business.
It's no great surprise that the Epic side of the Unix market continues to be singularly dominated by HP -- most other Itanium-based technologies use Microsoft Windows Server and/or flavors of Linux. But Intel's travels on the Itanium roadmap have had more than a fair share of fits and starts, resulting in unwanted detours for its OEMs -- an irksome issue during an already painful economic downturn.
Still, one vendor's problems are typically good news for others. That is certainly the case for IBM's Power Systems group, which stands to make considerable gains from its competitors' pains.
The company's latest Power offering announcements can be interpreted both strategically and tactically. From the former standpoint, the new Power7 upgrade path is the most intriguing point. IBM already owns the vast majority of Unix-related benchmarks, so a two to threefold boost should allow the company to maintain or notably extend its performance leadership.
But the upgrade paths also provide the solution to a common problem: Continual IT evolution delivers significant benefits but can also lead to frustration when customers see still relatively shiny new servers eclipsed by new technologies. This is not a big deal for everyone, but for owners of high-end Power 570 and 595 systems who are particularly sensitive to this point, the Power7 upgrade path will be enormously attractive.
Tactical and strategic issues aside, the most intriguing point regarding these announcements lies in how they might calm a disquieted IT market. At a time when potential chaos colors discussions about the future of some IT vendors and the greater economy, IBM's new Power Systems offerings qualify as a formidable bulwark.
These messages will be compelling to IBM's Power Systems clients, and should also be attractive to owners of Unix platforms whose futures are less certain.
New virtual machine management functionality
IBM also announced new virtual machine management software: Systems Director VMControl. The tool allows users to discover, display, monitor and locate virtual resources; create and manage virtual machines (VMs); and deploy and manage virtualized workloads via an interface common to all IBM servers, including Power AIX, Linux and i platforms, System z mainframes, System x servers and BladeCenter systems. VMControl Express Edition provides lifecycle management of VMs.
Standard Edition users will be able to capture, import, create, edit, delete and deploy virtual images as well as maintain those images in a virtual library. An upcoming release, VMControl Enterprise Edition, will allow clients to manage virtual system pools (groups of like systems) as a single pool of resources.
Tactically speaking, the new Systems Director VMControl tool aims to address a common data center situation: how to capture the maximum benefits of virtualization without painfully increasing the complexity of heterogeneous system management. Though some may say that the new solution fails to go far enough (i.e., beyond IBM platforms), it offers particular value to existing company customers and could eventually extend to owners of other vendors' servers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charles King is president and principal analyst of Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT. He focuses on business technology evolution and interpreting the effects these changes will have on the greater IT marketplace.
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