Wednesday, January 22, 2014

IBM Upgrades/Innovates X86, Flash and more

By Bill Moran and Rich Ptak

Just out in a joint announcement Lenovo has agreed with IBM to buy X86 business.  See the announcement at: Price is said to be at Lenovo's desired $2.3B. We'll be tracking and discussing the impact on IBM as things evolve.

 Congratulations to both; we'll post more shortly!

IBM’s latest announcements describe two major upgrades, one each for the X86 and flash products. While it might appear that an emphasis on Watson overshadows everything else, this reminds customers of IBM’s focus on IT infrastructure.
Excessive hype about Cloud as the wave of the future is leading some companies to believe they can ignore infrastructure. Any company doing so risks severe business embarrassment. We recently participated in a discussion about companies, with mainframes, that were cutting mainframe staffing to the point that they lacked sufficient resources to perform a new release upgrade. We all know that software always needs upgrading at some point. Therefore, those companies will suffer a rude shock when faced with the cost of a consultant to install upgrades. Of course, current management might be happy to take credit for successful (?) cost cutting as they leave the future consequences to someone else. IT infrastructure, both human and equipment, remains important. Let’s look at the products that IBM is announcing. New products were announced for:
  • System x 
  •  PureFlex 
  •  Storage
  •  Software Defined Environment
  •  System Networking
 The announcement does not discuss Power Systems or mainframe products.

System x
The key announcement is clearly the sixth generation IBM X6 platform delivering high-end server technology to IBM’s Intel-based offering. Compared with the older eX5, this new generation supports up to 3 times as much memory while delivering better reliability. IBM calculates that acquisition costs will be up to 28% lower than earlier comparable systems. The new rack design allows future technology upgrades to be made using the same chassis providing significant investment protection going forward. 
The new System x3650 M4, designed for Big Data workloads, leads the industry by supporting up to 56 terabytes of storage. The additional capacity combines with enhance performance and energy efficient operations make especially attractive for scale-out of Big Data clusters.
Enhanced with the new Intel Xeon E5-2400 v2processors, the IBM System x3630 and the x3530 M4 General Business rack servers feature 25% more cores and deliver up to a 21% performance increase over the previous generation. They are designed and optimized to facilitate faster data analysis and business decisions.

PureFlex Solutions
IBM introduced several notable PureSystem and Flex offerings. The Flex System x880 x6 Computer offers the new x6 architecture for faster database performance and more scalability. The existing x240 Compute node is enhanced with new Xeon E5-2600 v2 series chips.  Modular configuration for IBM Power and Flex systems allows more flexibility and savings. Compute and storage books can be swapped out. Upgrades to new generations of memory and processors fit into existing chassis further reducing costs and overhead. We must mention IBM PureSystem's 98% performance advantage over HP’s performance on the SPECvirt_sc2013 benchmark released last year. (To be fair, HP ran their test before the release of the latest INTEL chip used by IBM. Still, the difference is there.)

Finally, there are new PureFlex and Flex application specific offerings. These include:  IBM System x Solutions for:  SAP Hana on X6, Smart Cloud Orchestrator, VMware Cloud, Microsoft Exchange and SAP NetWeaver® Business Warehouse Accelerator.

In storage, the big news is a new set of new flash offerings offered for data centers as both standalone arrays and as complete solutions. The IBM FlashSystem 840 solution offers capacity ranging from 4-48 TB, is field upgradeable, fully redundant and hot swappable. Read latency is 135 µsec; write latency is 90 µsec. Bandwidth scales to 8GB/s, and performance is up to 1.1 million IOPS. IBM offers multiple flash alternatives to assure maximum performance.  These can be attached to SANs over Fibre Channel, InfiniBand or FCoE, but cannot connect via iSCSI.

Also new is the FlashSystem Enterprise Performance Solution, which couples the FlashSystem 840 with IBM's Storwize SAN Volume Controllers.  This solution offers a suite of advanced storage services including IBM's Real-Time Compression and storage virtualization.

Separately, the IBM eXFlash memory-channel storage is a dramatic innovation that connects flash on a DIMM directly to the X6 system’s memory bus. This enables larger virtual machines with greater performance by providing the server with a larger cache. Database transactions can also run faster. 

IBM announced an innovative new acquisition model for the IBM XIV Storage System that we believe will be attractive to Service Providers. Customers can now install a full XIV storage array in advance of growing workload needs.  These XIV systems include full authorization for use of the entire system's performance and capacity; however, the initial payment is only 60% of the first frame's price.  As storage needs grow, IBM delivers additional frames (typically when utilization reaches 70%) for just $1 plus any remaining payments for the prior frame.

Working with IBM's financing unit, this model can also be used with clients who prefer the benefits and flexibility of leases -- often resulting in even lower cost and OPEX/CAPEX flexibility.

Software Defined Environment
Using software to define the datacenter network (SDN) is increasingly accepted. Interest is spreading to include systems and servers. Users see great value in the flexibility resulting from defining an environment with software. One advantage is better utilization from fast, flexible resource allocation and configuration. Automating workload allocation and assignments combined with a software defined environment (SDE) have the potential for multiple benefits e.g. improved performance, reduced costs, etc., all issues for companies anticipating future cloud and hybrid cloud investments. 

As more companies are using OpenStack as a foundation for cloud environments, they want automation for maximum flexibility in using cloud resources and to reduce admin overhead. In response, IBM’s Platform Resource Scheduler delivers dynamic resource management for IBM OpenStack clouds. The result is better service and management using proven technology from their acquisition of Platform Computing.

System Networking
IBM System Networking RackSwitch G7028 is the newest member of the System Networking Family.  It has 24 Gigabit Ethernet ports to connect servers and storage to 10 GbE environments.  Port airflow configurations are compatible with System x, Power, Flex System and BladeCenter.  It is targeted to the needs of small and medium-sized business. For more details on its configuration and performance please visit:

The announcement focused on the new generations of the X86 servers and flash memory innovation. Though IBM only recently acquired flash technology, they are clearly intent on making significant investments on both flash and X86. Rumors may persist about IBM selling its X86 business, but clearly there is no evidence of that as reflected in IBM’s ability to and interest in innovating with the technology.  

Given Lenovo's success and customer satisfaction after acquiring IBM's PC business, we expect that customers will benefit from past efforts and investment by IBM.

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