IBM Tweaks Power Iron, Pulls Software, Adds Proactive Support

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Big Blue announced the “ZZ Power9 entry systems back in February, the “Boston” entry machines in May, and the midrange “Zeppelin” and high-end “Fleetwood” machines in August, which is the full product line. But IBM is still nipping and tucking the product line as customers react to it and want slightly different things than what initially came out with the systems.

In announcement letter 118-079, IBM made a few tweaks that will be interesting to IBM i shops. First of all, the mainstream Power S924 system, a 4U rack or tower system with two Power9 processors, have been given a new option to have an initial configuration with only one processor installed in the chassis, and the Power H924 variant aimed at SAP HANA in-memory applications (which has special lower pricing for compute, memory, and storage) is also getting this option. Of the processors available on these machines, only the feature #EP1G card, which has a 12 core Power9 chip running at a base speed of 3.5 GHz, is being made available in a single socket configuration; the feature #EP1E card with an eight core processor and the feature #EP1F card with a ten core processor are not available. The setup IBM is offering is for a single processor card and the cores are activated on all of them at the same time. So you can’t walk up the core activations gradually, as is possible on some machines like the entry four core Power S814 and Power S914 machines. IBM did not explain its reason for offering this option, but clearly, some customers did not need two cards at the start.

The Power System ZZ machines – that is the Power S914, Power S922, and Power S924 plain vanilla boxes, the Linux-only Power L922 system, and the Power H922 and Power H24 HANA boxes – are also getting a set of new network adapters with this set of announcements. This includes a PCI-Express 3.0 x16 two port adapter that comes from Mellanox Technologies that supports the 100 Gb/sec InfiniBand protocol (so called Enhanced Data Rate, or EDR). These cards cost $2,250. A single port version of the EDR InfiniBand adapter costs $2,025. IBM is also allowing for 10 Gb/sec Ethernet adapters supporting the low latency RoCE protocol (which gives it direct memory access functionality similar to InfiniBand but with much higher latency) to be migrated into Power S922, Power L922, and Power H922 systems; they appear to be new as well, even though that is not what the announcement letter says, and they cost $1,200 a pop. IBM’s AIX and IBM i platforms support these adapters, and the big Linuxes from Red Hat, SUSE Linux, and Canonical also support them.

I would love to see IBM make more use of InfiniBand with IBM i platforms, but traditionally, it has been the protocol underneath the High Speed Link connections that link IBM i systems to external media enclosures using the GX bus. So, for more than a decade, the IBM i platform has been using InfiniBand, whether we knew it or not. I think it would be great if even small machines could use InfiniBand links to hook out to clustered file, block, and object storage that was itself clustered with InfiniBand. For many applications, this lower latency would be a real plus.

In addition to these tweaks, IBM also said in announcement letter 918-147 that a bunch of programs relating to IBM i 7.1 would be withdrawn from marketing on September 30, 2019. These include some core IBM i 7.1 stuff available under a monthly licensing program as well DB2 Web Query, Cloud Storage for i, HA Assist for i, and iCluster. Usually in such announcement levels, there is a section that tells you that replacement versions or releases are available, but this is not there. We have a hard time believing that this software is being killed off on IBM i 7.2 or IBM i 7.3, even if it is biting the dust on IBM i 7.1. (IBM likes to use sticks as well as carrots to move people ahead. This could be a stick.) The Cloud Storage Solution for i Version 1.1.0 is being discontinued after December 18 of this year, for both the perpetual and monthly licensed versions.

Keeping track of the licensed product numbers, the names of the programs, when they were announced, what they cost, and when they are withdrawn, and what replacements are available is a real pain in the neck. It would be useful if IBM provided a full database of all of this information that was searchable so we could just check this all out and not have a vague announcement letter. We need the heads up when things change, so the announcement letter is useful in this regard. But the information is incomplete, and it makes everyone scurry to try to figure this out. This is an inefficient process – and something that could be automated and improved.

Just a thought.

Finally, in announcement letter 218-426, IBM is offering Proactive Support for Power Systems of all stripes and sizes and now it is integrated into the IBM i, AIX, and Linux as well as for the SAP HANA environment. Unlike the normal software and hardware maintenance, which is available for when software goes awry or hardware breaks and needs fixing, Proactive Support does exactly what the name suggests and puts a team of people on your systems so they can learn about them, monitor them, and base and proactively find potential problems before they start. IBM has been playing with extra handholding through a service called Power Premier for AIX and IBM i for a while, and this looks like the formal launch of the service.

IBM actually snuck out a generic Proactive Support announcement back on May 15 in announcement letter 618-007, but it did not really provide a lot of details – particularly not on pricing. It seems like a semi-custom support engagement that is a lot broader than hardware warranty and Software Maintenance combined, that is for sure, and presumably it is not cheap. But it is probably a lot cheaper than employing an IT staff of one, two, or three to do the same job, depending on the complexity and size of the IBM i or AIX environment. Customers have to have Software Maintenance for either AIX or IBM i to get this proactive support, and Linux customers have to license through Big Blue and have Support Line for Linux.

More details were presented in the more recent Power Systems launch of Proactive Support, as IBM explains as it goes through the three major components of the enhanced tech support for Power iron, and we quote:

  • Managed Support provides a named product support specialist who acts as an extension of your in-house staff within IBM Support and maintains regular communication with you through quarterly status calls/electronic reports. The specialist maintains an up-to-date awareness of your enhanced problem resolution service components.
  • Proactive Support offers a combination of analytical tools (TSA, ProWeb), emergency maintenance notifications, automated alert reports on the latest AIX/IBM i maintenance, performance management summary reports, and expert advice by specialists who knows you and your environment.
  • Enhanced Problem Resolution offers fast, managed problem resolution through the unique IBM Direct Access Code (DAC) system that provides direct access to a dedicated team of product support specialists who can quickly diagnose a problem, resolve it directly, or route it to and engage additional expert assistance. This team will respond live or within a maximum of 30 minutes 24x7x365 to any hardware or software problem reported to them through DAC (phone) or within 60 minutes by quoting the DAC (electronic submission).

Got that? It would be nice to have a price for this, but you are going to have to contact IBM to get one. Proactive Support for Power Systems became available September 14 in contracts that span one or three years.

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