zhu difeng - Fotolia

IBM boosts security, reliability in Power Systems server additions

IBM's upcoming Power Systems servers add more security and reliability for cloud environments and promise to lower maintenance costs over the systems' life span.

Big Blue hopes to red-light Intel's march into its data center server territory.

According to sources, IBM will add two enhanced servers to its Power Systems lineup later this month that are designed to be significantly more reliable and secure for cloud environments and promise to reduce associated hardware and software maintenance costs by more than 80% during their life span.

The Power9-based models 950 and 980 -- the latter, higher-end model can be stuffed with up to 192 processors and 64 TB of memory -- contain a number of hardware technologies to improve security and server uptime. These include 24 crypto-engines, which is twice as many as Power8-based systems; intelligent storage controllers; regulated power supplies; and distributed system clocks that kick in when the main system clock fails. Working together, these hardware technologies underpin IBM's pledge of 99.9996% uptime over three years.

"[That guarantee] is about as good as you get with any IBM system, including mainframes," said one consultant who declined to be identified. "This improvement in reliability and security is what helps drive down the hardware and software maintenance costs over the life span of the system."

The increased number of crypto-engines in the system, in addition to their increased speed and performance, should appeal to IT shops that want more security in their cloud environments, said an analyst also familiar with the company's plans.

"In the z14 [IBM mainframe], they introduced pervasive encryption, which has turned into an important selling point for that system," the analyst said. "I think most larger enterprise users will welcome this added layer of security."

IBM hopes the new machines' significant memory bump will appeal to users that implement in-memory databases and speed up analytics software, sources said.

IBM executives project cost savings on maintenance over three years will be around $200,000 for the lower-end model 950 and as high as $600,000 on the model 980. The company is so confident about these savings, it will bundle in the maintenance costs of the model 950 and greatly reduce the maintenance costs on the high-end model from about $620,000 to $79,000 over five years, sources said.

"Backed with the 99.9996 uptime number, IBM is trying to convey the message that these things, along with your cloud, aren't going down," the consultant said.

Besides reliability and security, both IBM Power9 systems are optimized to operate more efficiently in cloud environments, as well as provide tools to build clouds more easily. These include the company's PowerVM virtualization offering, which contains the Virtual I/O Server that can be used to virtualize I/O resources for AIX, IBM I and Linux client partitions. IBM also will bundle VMware's vRealize management and orchestration software, as well as IBM Cloud Private development tools and IBM Cloud PowerVC Manager to provision workloads and manage virtual images.

IBM will allow AIX users to transfer their licenses to the new systems, according to sources.

A defensive stance

Initially, these IBM Power Systems servers are intended to compete against Intel as a defensive move, rather than an offensive one. Over the past several years, as cloud computing demand soared, IBM's Power series lost market share to Intel's less expensive server offerings with steadily improved features and performance. Over the short term, the company wants to ensure its existing users upgrade their IBM Power servers and prevent Intel from further eating into its customer base, the analyst said.

"If they can accomplish that, then they can focus on selling all these other capabilities to go after new customers," he said.

Looking ahead, IBM plans to deliver servers based on its Power9 processors through the end of 2019 and release systems containing the Power10 chip in 2020, sources said. IBM declined to elaborate on what new features would be in Power10, sources said.

Next Steps

IBM's first Power10 server tailored for hybrid clouds

Dig Deeper on Data center hardware and strategy

Cloud Computing
and ESG