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IBM Power9 servers add reliability, reduce maintenance costs

IBM looks to grab high-end hardware market share from archrival Intel with the introduction of two Power9 servers that offer greater uptime and reduced maintenance costs.

With a couple of scale-up Power9 Systems servers introduced this week, IBM looks to lure customers with compute-intensive requirements, such as in-memory databases, analytics and deep learning.

Besides added speed and memory capacity, compared with their predecessors, the new IBM Power9 server models E950 and E980 contain a handful of hardware and software improvements designed to make the systems more reliable and secure for cloud environments, along with lower hardware and software maintenance costs.

As reported last week, some of the hardware technologies intended to improve security and server uptime include 24 crypto-engines -- 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 are reasons why the systems can sustain 99.9996% uptime, which should appeal to IT shops that run critical portions of their business in the cloud, IBM officials said.

"The argument in the past was IBM's equipment wouldn't run reliably in an internet environment, which is why everyone gravitated to Sun's [Microsystems] boxes," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects. "This time, IBM is taking steps to better ensure their systems won't bring down someone's cloud environment," he said.

IBM said the cost savings on maintenance for the lower-end model, E950, will be in the range of $200,000 and as high as $600,000 on the higher-end model, E980, over three years. Sources said the company is so confident about these savings, it is bundling in the maintenance costs of the E950 and greatly reducing the maintenance costs on the high-end model.

To help ease the installation and management of cloud environments, IBM has offered a range of different software, such as its PowerVM offering, which contains the Virtual I/O Server that can virtualize I/O resources for AIX; IBM i and Linux partitions; VMware's vRealize management and orchestration software; the company's Cloud Private suite of development tools; and the OpenStack-based Cloud PowerVC Manager, which provisions workloads and manages virtual images.

What IBM users want is to capture the value of cloud within their own data centers.
Charles Kingpresident and principal analyst, Pund-IT

"Ease of management and scaling for users in cloud implementations is really important, as it is for cloud service providers, because that's how [providers] deliver services profitably," said Charles King, president and principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"What IBM users want is to capture the value of cloud within their own data centers. With these servers, it looks like IBM is trying to do just that," he said.

The model E950 comes in a 4U form factor, while the higher-end E980 is a 5U form factor. The E950 is available in several different configurations, supporting between 32 cores on the low end up to 48 cores. The E980 is also available in multiple configurations and can support up to 192 cores. The memory capacity of the E950 is 16 TB, and the E980 can handle up to 64 TB. Both systems can work with AIX, IBM i OS and Linux. IBM will allow existing users with AIX licenses to transfer them to the new systems.

Separately, IBM plans to continue to deliver servers based on its Power9 processors through the end of 2019. Systems that contain the Power10 chip will ship in 2020, sources said. IBM would not elaborate on additional features in the Power10.

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