IBM Corp said in May that it would keep up a steady rate of OS/400 server announcements as it rolls out the Power5-based machines, and today Big Blue is making good on that promise. The word on the street two weeks ago was that IBM would be launching the four-way eServer i5 Model 550 and extending the Model 570 to 16-way processing as it debuted the AIX-based eServer p5 variants of the “Squadron” servers. The Model 570 made it, but the Model 550 didn’t.
Two weeks ago, I was pretty convinced that the Model 550 was going to come out soon, since I saw an IBM product delivery schedule (dated June 28) that clearly said a machine called the i550 was going to have product availability on August 27, 2004. This could have been a typo, of course. But IBM’s iSeries execs have hinted that the Model 550 was a possible future announcement, and we all know that the pSeries (now p5) team needs to launch a low-cost Unix box to run the low-cost Oracle Standard Edition database, which drives a big part of the Unix market. Oracle SE is only sold on servers that max out with four processors, so it cannot be put on a Model 570, which can scale with NUMA-like clustering to 16 processors.
It seemed logical that IBM would launch a Model 550 with cut-throat prices and perhaps Express configurations, which featured beefed-up systems, ready-to-run applications out of the box, at attractive suggested list prices. But something happened on the way to the announcement, and I think what happened is that somebody, somewhere in IBM, decided at the last minute that the Model 550 was not going to get the i5 label.
Specifically I think that IBM has figured out that it can make more money and offer a simpler i5 product line if it ignores the Model 550, which cannot be upgraded to a Model 570. The i5 does not have the Oracle problem, and if IBM doesn’t want to do Model 550 Express machines, which would indeed eat severely into Model 570 sales and pretty much relegate that machine to being a replacement for Model 840, Model 870, and Model 890 servers. IBM could yet launch a Model 550. In fact, before I was briefed by IBM on the announcements last Thursday, business partners were telling me the Model 550 had been pushed to at least October. But if IBM wanted to create a bigger machine with more green-screen processing in Express configurations, for instance, it could just back off the governors on the Model 520s a little and achieve the same result. It could drop in the 1.9GHz Power5 chips if it needed more oomph. IBM has plenty of options. So a Model 550 is not a foregone conclusion.
In any event, what Big Blue did do today is flesh out the Model 570, which was launched in two- and four-way configurations in May, when the eServer i5s made their debut. As IBM explained back in May, the Model 570 was designed to be a modular system, like the Summit xSeries boxes that use Intel’s Itanium 2 and Xeon DP processors, to scale from one to 16 or 32 processors respectively. With today’s announcements, IBM will offer the ability to couple two, three, or four Model 570 chassis to create machines that span up to 16-way processing. Specifically, there is a two chassis Model 570 that offers from five to eight processor cores, a three chassis Model 570 that offers from nine to 12 cores, and a four chassis Model 570 that offers from 13 to 16 cores. And while the eServer p5 is getting 1.9GHz Power5 processors in the p5-570 server, the i5 Model 570 is sticking with the 1.65GHz processors. IBM is allowing a maximum of 32GB of main memory per Power5 core. The biggest Model 570 tops out at eight HSL-2 loops, 30 I/O towers, 96TB of internal disk capacity, and a maximum of 160 Linux partitions and 64 OS/400 partitions. (The limit on the OS/400 partitions is arbitrary, not technical. IBM can add more OS/400 partitions if customers need it.)
The reason is quite simple. Even using those slower Power5 chips, a 13-way Model 570 has 36,300 CPWs of raw computing power, which is almost as high as a 32-way Model 890 server using 1.3GHz Power4 processors, which is rated at 37,400 CPWs. And a 16-way Model 570 is rated at 44,700 CPWs (19% more oomph than the Model 890) and supports 512GB of main memory (twice that of the Model 890). For all but the largest OS/400 shops, this 16-way machine is going to be more than enough engine. You can see why IBM’s OS/400 team is in no hurry to get the Model 590, the 64-way Power5 Squadron server, out the door. The p5 team, however, is in something of a hurry, so it can demonstrate dominance among enterprise customers who have tended to invest in big, bad Unix boxes and not OS/400 servers.
The new Model 570 servers will become generally available on August 31. At press time, IBM had not hammered out the final prices for the machines, since the i5 and p5 teams have to agree on pricing. (You can check out the feeds and speeds for the new machines in the updated eServer i5 salient characteristics table I built.)
Apparently, according to Ian Jarman, IBM’s iSeries product marketing manager, the processor activation charges for the Model 570 (which were set at $4,400 for the May 3 launch) could be raised to make the processor activation fees the same as what IBM is charging in the p5 line. Suffice it to say, there are some discussions going on. However, Jarman says that whatever IBM decides for i5 and p5 Model 570 feature pricing, the OS/400 team will make it wash by lowering the OS/400 processor activation fee by the same amount it has to raise the Power5 processor activation fee. This will, however, make a Linux processor more expensive than it currently is to activate.
IBM is making available the Model 570 machines in OS/400 Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, and iSeries for High Availability configurations. And the Model 570 will also be available in a Capacity BackUp on Demand configuration for companies that want to use it as a hot standby for their production iSeries or i5 box. The Model 570 backup box has two permanently activated processors (like the Model 890 CBU version does) and can, in an emergency, have all of its processors turned on to do real work until the production machine is fixed after a crash or disaster. Pricing has not been set yet for these new machines. I took a stab at estimating prices for the OS/400 Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition base Model 570s. I think the new Model 570 Standard Editions will range from $335,000 to $798,000, while the Enterprise Edition versions will range from a little more than $1.2m to $2.54m.