Monday, March 30, 2015

INTERCONNECT 2015 –Power8 is primed for success!

By Rich Ptak and Bill Moran

In April of 2014, IBM announced its first Power8 systems, at the same time they launched the Open Power Foundation. IBM was bringing to hardware the same open source model that had proven so successful for Linux software. The Open Source concept profoundly impacted the software industry benefiting both users and vendors. The plan was to repeat that success with a complete system. 

IBM’s Interconnect 2015 conference[1] ended recently. It included an abundance of customer stories and product announcements centered on Power8 and the Open Power architecture making this a good time to examine the systems status. We consider factors contribute\ing to Power8’s success as well as hurdles to overcome. 

We begin admitting our bias favors Power8 success, because we think monopolies distort markets. With AMD no longer a major force, Intel dominates x86-based server and PC markets. The result is stifled chip development, slowed emergence of alternative technologies, limited vendor options and reduced customer choice. Competition at the server level (HP, Lenovo, Dell, etc.) masks Intel’s monopoly of microprocessor architectures without addressing the underlying problems. 

A look back at the process by which 64 bit addressing became available to x86 customers illustrates the problem[2]. Intel originally planned to only offer 64 bit capability in a new  IA-64 line of processors; requiring customers to migrate to a new architecture. Only after AMD demonstrated that 64 bit could be added to x86 (with no migration required) did Intel follow suit.

Thus, AMD provided a choice customers otherwise would not have had. Competition drives change, innovation and dynamism in the marketplace. However, it isn’t clear how much the current non-competitive state influences server purchases[3]. Buyer specific needs probably influencer their decisions far more. Server level competition tends to conceal the level of control Intel exerts in the market. 

That said; let’s look at some key strengths and benefits Power8 brings to users and vendors:
  1. 1.     Designed for the era of Big Data, it leverages advanced technologies to enhance its ability to store, access and manipulate large amounts of data quickly and easily.
  2. 2.     Delivers enhanced support for Hadoop to better manage structured and unstructured data.
  3. 3.     Increases availability of role-based Power8-based cloud implementations, e.g. IBM’s Developer Cloud, multiple Power8 platform configurations (including bare metal) from IBM SoftLayer, etc.
  4. 4.     IBM is making the Open Power chip and firmware completely available to the public – allowing vendors, countries, individuals, etc. to redesign the chip and its firmware to meet their needs.
  5. 5.     The OpenPOWER Foundation as an open collaboration of industry users, vendors, research institutions and academia in support of Open Power is a particularly brilliant strategy.
Making the Open Power architecture available to all provides a huge market boost to Power. In particular, making the firmware publicly available means that global vendors can (and are) using the architecture without worrying about the existence of built-in backdoors. The rapid growth of the OpenPOWER Foundation to over 100 members demonstrates other companies recognize the business opportunities. OpenPOWER contributes to a surge in Power8 interest that will likely continue. 

Power8 offers a significant performance advantage over Intel servers in certain types of server consolidation. Using Power8 with CAPI, Redis Labs achieved a significant reduction[4] in required servers switching from x86. The application’s use of an in-memory database means it gains optimum advantage of Power8’s large memory and enhanced analytics. Nevertheless, the potential benefit in large data center environments appears to be substantial, even at lower ratios. There exists a clear potential for cost reductions in software licenses and such environmental items as power, floor space, and administrator time.  Thus, Power8 is likely to yield even more significant cost advantages.

Still there are challenges that Power8 must overcome in the marketplace. Perhaps the biggest is inertia. Many customers have been reflexively buying Intel x86 servers for years and may be reluctant to change. The latest IDC survey[5] reports that the non-x86 share of the server market is shrinking; even as many seem unaware that an alternative exists. The drawbacks of a non-competitive environment (higher prices, delayed innovation) have not manifested themselves in severely felt ‘pains’ limiting interest in searching for alternative suppliers. Although, there are some indications this is starting to change.

Further, some important applications do not run on Power8 Linux. For example, the popular Oracle and SQLServer databases are not available for Power8 Linux[6]. Generally, customers are reluctant to move workloads if it includes changing databases. Some work-arounds do exist, e.g. keeping the database, but using an intervening service to access that data. However, customers may be reluctant to add a service layer or may lack the in-house skills or confidence to change databases. 

Linux (on Intel) is a growing market even as Windows Server growth stagnates.  Windows Server users find Linux on Intel to be a better environment, but it has x86 limitations. Those customers are prime candidates for Power8 Linux as Linux on Intel and Linux on Power8 are near 100% compatible. While Windows Server is not a supported operating system on Power8; customers can be motivated to leave Windows. Motivation can be improved with attractive pricing, new tools that facilitate the move, greatly enhanced capabilities and features. 

Doug Balog, IBM General Manager of Power8, is convinced 2015 will be the key year for Power8. We think that he is right. There exists a very good chance that Power8 Systems from IBM and other OpenPOWER vendors will achieve a breakthrough. Customers who value competition ought to investigate Power8 to see where  it might fit into their plans and significantly benefit their applications. 

[1] Key sessions are available for replay.
[3] This is a concern for many IT staff we’ve spoken with.
[4] Yiftach Shoolman, CTO and Co-Founder of Redis described the reduction which demonstrates the value of Power8 + CAPI technology. CAPI allows flash memory to directly attach to the processor. The Power8 system here had 40TB of flash memory attached. See
[6] Oracle is supported on AIX.

Friday, March 27, 2015

OpenPOWER Foundation Summit – accelerating Open Systems momentum

By Rich Ptak

The OpenPOWER Foundation is an open collaboration of industry users, vendors, research institutions and academia launched with 5 members in early 2014. The goal was to build an ecosystem to cooperate in creating solutions using IBM’s OpenPOWER architecture to create the first truly open source system by combining open-source software and open-source hardware.

Fast forward to March, 2015, now 113 members strong, the first OpenPOWER Foundation Summit[1] was hosted as part of the GPU event in San Jose. As we describe here[2], Power Systems products figured prominently at IBM’s Interconnect 2015 conference[3]. The Foundation event provided even more evidence of the market momentum and growing interest in OpenPOWER.

On display were 15 working products from component level up to systems, processors, platforms and solutions. This year, Foundation members have 100 active projects already underway; both with and without direct IBM involvement. Projects are focused on High Performance Computing (HPC), data center optimization, operating system optimization, IBM’s Watson, industry-specific devices from chips to systems, etc.

There was an interesting undercurrent during presentations and discussion with attendees. Where one might expect a strong technical slant, event attendees and Foundation members see their objectives in the clearly practical terms of enterprise problem solving. The goal is successful application of the latest technology to the solution of major problems. They are driving a fundamental shift in understanding the application of and accomplished with technology.

Usually, the talk is of how Moore’s Law i.e., the cost-benefit (more performance + less volume + lower cost) applies. Here the discussion was about accelerating the realization real payoffs from technology. It is about cost effective, rapid problem solution and achievement of enterprise goals whether profit, new medical protocols, discovery breakthroughs or curing life-threatening disease.

Brad McCredie, Foundation President, indicated that while technology remains important, the value needed comes from facilitating business model innovations. The OpenPOWER architecture provides more opportunities to productively cooperate (and compete), with a new vision that opens the door to the future.

Representatives from Altera, Google, IBM, Mellanox, Nallatech, Nvidia, Rackspace, TYAN, Suzhou Power, etc. documented how the Open Systems model delivers benefits to consumers, service providers, researchers and vendors. Though hard data is still scarce, available evidence also points to significant price/performance benefits. Linley Group comparing IBM prices with reseller estimates found Power8 processors can be nearly 50%[4] lower than Xeon systems with x86 chips.

Here is a list of some of the significant products and prototypes that were announced in San Jose:

1.     Chinese companies will produce four products for their national market in 2015:
  • a.     PowerCore’s CP1 is the first POWER chip for the China market from a Chinese chip design company.
  • b.     Zoom Netcom’s new line of RedPOWER servers are the first Chinese OpenPOWER two-socket systems using the CP1 chip.
  • c.     ChuangHe and other Chinese OpenPOWER members described their designs for China-branded OpenPOWER systems using POWER8 processors.
  • d.     In 2014, the Chinese government formed a public-private partnership, China POWER Technology Alliance (CPTA) to integrate local Chinese and OpenPOWER ecosystem resources to accelerate their infrastructure upgrade.

2.     Products and prototypes planned for availability in Q2CY15 are:

  • b.     Cirrascale RM4950[7] – the first OpenPOWER-based GPU developer platform is a collaboration of NVIDIA, Tyan and Cirrascale  targeted to Big Data analytics, machine learning, and scientific computing GPU applications.
  • c.     Rackspace announced a prototype open server design[8] and motherboard combining OpenPOWER and Open Compute design with OpenStack management to deliver superior performance in their data centers.

3.     IBM and Wistron announced joint development of (codename) Firestone a prototype high-performance server using technology from NVIDIA and Mellanox. First of a series, it is part of IBM's technical computing roadmap and pathway to exascale computing.

4.     Also part of the exascale series of servers are Summit and Sierra for the U.S. government – Oak Ridge National Laboratory will house Summit at its Center for Accelerated Application Readiness (CAAR), announced 13 partner projects to begin preparing computational science/engineering applications to run on Summit.

Proven enormously successful with Linux, the open-source software concept profoundly impacted the software industry while significantly benefiting both vendors and users. OpenPOWER Foundation members have made significant progress in repeating the pattern, thereby releasing open-source system benefits. It is still too early to predict the final outcome with certainty, but signs are positive. Success will end Intel’s uncontested dominance of x86–based servers.

We’ll close with two quotes, first from Gordon MacKean, OpenPOWER Foundation Chair: “Through our members’ individual and collective efforts we are positively disrupting the market, delivering innovations that advance data center technology, expand choice and drive market efficiency.”

And one from Mr. Zhiqiang Tian, Senior Engineer, BIOS research and development, TEAMSUN: “The development of the OpenPOWER ecosystem in China’s high security level market enriches China ISV and IHV’s options for a total solution from hardware to software.”

I don’t see any way to improve on those statements. Congratulations to IBM, the OpenPOWER Foundation and all its members.

[1] See the presentations and talks here:
[2] Ptak Associates Tech Blog:
[3] Key sessions are available for replay.
[4] POWER8 Hits the Merchant Market states: "Pricing is no contest. We estimate that IBM’s 12-core Power8 will list for $2,500; add $180 or $360 for two or four buffer chips. Intel hasn’t published a list price for the Xeon E5-2699v3, but after surveying some Internet re-sellers, we estimate it lists for about $4,100."

Friday, March 6, 2015

IBM’s Interconnect 2015 Cloud announcements – Shaking up the Cloud!

 By Rich Ptak and Bill Moran

IBM’s cloud product and services announcements[1] at Interconnect 2015 were numerous and diverse. They span a multitude of functions making in-depth coverage in a blog impossible. Therefore, we focus on those we consider the most news-worthy enhancements in five key categories.  The categories are: 1) SoftLayer (IBM’s competitive public cloud offering) enhancements, 2) BlueMix (IBM’s developer cloud) features, 3) Developer-focused features, 4) Security changes and 5) Management enhancements that focus on hybrid cloud.

SoftLayer enhancements are important because of escalating demands and competition in public cloud offerings. At acquisition, IBM announced plans to invest $1.2 billion to enhance SoftLayer. The results of that investment include the addition of new SoftLayer data centers worldwide, including (new) MontrĂ©al and Sydney within the next 30 days.  Chennai, India, Milan, and others will follow by the end of the year. Local data centers are important for many reasons (cost, accessibility, convenience, etc.). They also satisfy legislative mandates for government agencies and certain private companies to keep data locally. Also announced are two data centers designed to comply with strict US federal government requirements, i.e. FedRAMP and FISMA[2], increasing IBM’s attractiveness as a supplier.

In sum, the number of SoftLayer datacenters has grown by 100% since the IBM acquisition in 2013. SoftLayer has been enhanced to support speedy[3] deployment of bare metal servers. Such servers deliver the best performance for compute intensive workloads. Further enhancing the attraction, IBM SoftLayer implements Intel Trusted Execution (TXT) technology to provide security at the microprocessor level[4]. Neither AWS (nor any other provider) offers an integrated bare metal option, making this an industry first. It is even more desirable given recent reports of ‘invisible’ micro-code for spying hidden in microprocessors.

BlueMix is IBM’s cloud offering for developers. Brand new is BlueMix for the customer’s datacenter. BlueMix Local delivers a complete BlueMix environment running locally with a variety of support options. It also can support workloads that require high speed access to data which is only available on-premise. Customers can use a unified console to manage the combined resources of BlueMix Local and cloud BlueMix. Also new is the ability to scan applications still in development to detect potential security problems. IBM has added Watson functionality to BlueMix. The new Watson Zone includes Watson APIs, sample code, tutorial material and use cases. The idea here is to help developers create new hybrid apps that are enhanced with cognitive capabilities.

Developers have even more new capabilities. Among the most important is BlueMix support for enterprise Containers[5]. There have always been serious challenges moving applications between environments. Containers simplify such moves. They can provide a significant productivity boost when creating apps for multiple environments. Other enhancements include faster configuration and deployment of VMs, ability to build and manage a private image library, and much more. Also, there is API Harmony, easing developer efforts by recommending relevant APIs based upon smart search as it provides contextual relationship mapping from a large selection of public APIs. Finally, IBM delivers a complete open development platform with open software (Linux) and open hardware (Power Architecture).

IBM has significantly enhanced its Cloud Security portfolio since last quarter responding to the on-going battle between security capabilities and criminal elements interested in penetrating a company’s operations. IBM added an extensive range of new services to allow direct customer management of cloud services. These include cloud access control (people, apps and devices), increased operations visibility (to discover security breaches and compliance violations), data protection mechanisms to identify and block attacks by mobile and web apps, etc.

IBM is delivering new functionality that will give its clients comparable Management capabilities for a hybrid cloud that they have for a private cloud or for their in-house IT operations. IBM Cloud Orchestrator[6],[7] will allow management across hybrid environments.

One more item: don’t overlook a consistent feature of IBM’s cloud and infrastructure portfolios, i.e. its openness. Wherever possible, IBM uses open technologies in its enhancements. Open Compute Foundation, Cloud Foundry, OpenStack and node.js are among the most widely known. All feature prominently in the portfolio. It’s not just software; it also applies to infrastructure combining POWER8[8]  with the software stack you have the most open server platform available today. Further, since acquiring SoftLayer, IBM has been moving it to open technologies. Customers should applaud and support this direction. History teaches us that customers are better served and save more over time when they avoid single vendor lock-in. Open technologies facilitate that decision.

This has been a rapid overview of IBM’s cloud announcements and activities. More specific commentary and analysis is in the works. In the meantime, we highly recommend visiting IBM’s website for more information.

[1] See the following for IBM’s summary of the Cloud announcements at Interconnect 2015.   and
[2] FedRAMP and FISA are two federal programs that set federal wide standards for cybersecurity for Federal agencies. FedRAMP is a GSA program; FISA is administered by the OMB.
[3] IBM says accessible in minutes.
[4] See an IBM video on this topic on Intel’s website. This is also represents a security enhancement.
[5] Based on Open Docker technology.
[7] See our commentary on Orchestration:
[8] See the OpenPOWER Foundation for more information.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

BMC moves to the forefront in DB2 Utilities with CDB acquisition

By Rich Ptak and Bill Moran

BMC has been a leader in delivering DB2 utilities for nearly 30 years. In recent years, mainframe DB2 utility customers have voiced their need for faster completion times, lower execution costs, shorter or no outages at all along with multiple requests for more functionality to keep up with the demands of the digital enterprise. BMC saw an opportunity to both address these needs and raise the bar in improved cost and performance results

In its response, BMC had to choose between in-house development and acquisition. Redesigning and rewriting the DB2 utilities would be costly and time consuming, risking potential erosion in market share. Acquisition offered a quicker and potentially more cost-effective solution, assuming the right company was available.

BMC knew CDB as a small, but successful competitor selling DB2 utilities. Using recent technologies, CDB delivered a set of leading-edge products that were both competing with and complementary to existing BMC’s utilities. In an all-cash transaction, BMC acquired CDB’s products, programming assets and select personnel; keeping key personnel from CDB will facilitate future development of DB2 utilities.

What does this mean to BMC’s customers? As we see it, the key message continues the good news following from BMC’s privatization. The new owners are aggressively investing not only in BMC, but also in what they recognize as good opportunities in the mainframe business. In our opinion, mainframe customers can look forward to a continuing flow of new mainframe products and technologies. This is good news for BMC’s current as well as all mainframe customers, as increasing competition drives product improvements. It also should motivate non-BMC customers to consider BMC products.

Here are some details of the acquisition. The combined companies’ products include both overlapping and complementary DB2 utilities. These are classified as follows: Load, Unload, Reorg, Copy, Recover, Check and Statistics collection. The challenge lies in combining and integrating the best of the CDB offerings with the best of the BMC offerings into what BMC calls Next Generation Technology (NGT).

Plans are for BMC Copy, Recover, Check and Statistics to be combined with CDB offerings for Load, Unload, and Reorg. Future releases of LOBMaster and Real-Time Utility Manager will complete the package. The new platform will include extended automation capabilities to ease the workload on already stressed mainframe staffs.

Existing BMC utility customers will have immediate access to the equivalent new technology by simply contacting their account management teams. The details of upgrades and offerings in other customer scenarios are still being worked out.

By midyear 2015, BMC plans to be able to offer all existing customers the opportunity to investigate the new technology. Customers will be able to evaluate and consider a complete migration at their own pace.

By the end of 2016 or early 2017 (timed to coincide with an expected new DB2 release), BMC plans a fully integrated BMC and CDB utility suite supporting the new DB2 release.

Timelines for some offerings to CDB customers will be handled on an individual basis. BMC plans to treat them comparably to their own existing customers. For those with neither BMC nor the CDB products, separate packaging will be available

We think that this deal benefits all parties. The BMC customers get access to new technology that speeds up the reorg process and eliminates even the seconds-long downtime that BMC’s current reorg requires. CDB customers will be happy as BMC introduces new automation functions and they gain access to BMC technology where it is superior to CDB.

In addition, CDB customers will now be dealing with a larger company and they will no longer have the risks associated with a very small supplier. BMC gains with even more competitive products able to leverage a quantum leap into the latest, proven technology.

We believe that the only companies who don’t gain are BMC’s competitors. But, we expect the resulting competition to bring even more good news for customers over time.