If you thought it was tough to get your hands on an Power 520 or Power 550 server using one of IBM's older dual core Power6 or Power6+ processors in the fourth quarter, then you're in for a shock. It is going to get a whole lot harder to get one of these machines very soon ... This is because Big Blue has pulled the plug on these and other Power Systems machines in the same generation and will stop selling them in the coming months.
There are exceptions in the Greater China Group, however – which is something I have never seen before in an IBM announcement letter. (I wonder what that is all about? Hmm. . . . )
In any event, in announcement letter 911-010, IBM says it is removing the Power6 and Power6+ machines that are still in its catalog. The BladeCenter JS23 and JS43 blade servers (7778-23X) are no longer going to be available after April 29 of this year. The Power 520 (8203-E4A) and the Power 550 (8204-E8A) are withdrawn from marketing on May 27, and the high-end Power 595 gets the axe on July 29. IBM says that JS23/JS43 buyers should look to the PS701 blade, Power 520 shoppers should think about a Power 720, Power 550 shops should consider a Power 740, and Power 595 tyre-kickers should ponder the Power 795 as replacement products once these old machines go off the market. I would add that there are plenty of third-party equipment dealers who want to talk to you, too. You don't have to buy a new box if it doesn't suit your needs.
The withdrawn machines run IBM's AIX variant of Unix, Linuxes from Red Hat and Novell, and IBM's own i5/OS V5R5, i 6.1, and i 7.1 proprietary operating systems (which include an embedded relational database management system). The various IBM i edition packages for the low-end Power 520 and Power 550 machines (Entry, Growth, Express, and Solution) are getting dumped into the dustbin.
So too are processor cards, memory features (4GB and 8GB sticks), and disk drives (139.5GB and 283.7GB capacities at 15K RPM speeds) for these machines, as well as a slew of other peripherals like RIO-2 I/O adapters, various DAT320 and LTO4 tape drives, and cables and such. And in a sign of the times, the external high-speed modem (no doubt running at a 56K baud rate, and remember when that sounded fast) used in generations of iSeries and Power Systems boxes, is having its plugged pulled on July 29.
IBM removed the Power 560 and Power 570 machines from its catalog last July. These boxes were on the high side of midrange-class or the low side of enterprise-class, depending on how you want to carve up the market. IBM's last day of selling these two Power6/6+ machines was January 7 of this year. And last fall, IBM killed off the JS22 blade server, which was based on the Power6 chip. The last day the JS22 was for sale was January 7 as well.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that IBM does not want to make these older Power6 and Power6+ machines any more, since it is trying to ramp up sales of the Power7-based machines. AIX 5.3, which was released at the same time as the Power5 and Power5+ systems back in 2005 and 2006, respectively, is supported on Power7 iron. So AIX customers can move OS levels to AIX 6.1 or AIX 7.1 (or not) as they see fit. IBM plans to cut AIX 5.3 from its catalog on April 29 this year, however, so companies that want to use this older version of the operating system have to act fast. IBM will continue to support AIX 5.3 for many years, of course, and is creating a workload partition that can host AIX 5.3 to be delivered at some future time.
Last August, Big Blue announced that it could virtualize an AIX 5.2 instance and suck it into a workload partition on its PowerVM hypervisor running on Power7 iron and run it unchanged. There are some limits on these AIX 5.2 WPARs, such as only supporting the JFS2 file system and not NFS and management tools used to run free-standing AIX 5.2 machines not working within the WPAR, as El Reg explained last fall.
On the proprietary midrange front, there are a lot of customers who are on OS/400 V5R3 or i5/OS V5R4, the former of which is no longer for sale and the latter of which has had its marketing execution stayed twice now. IBM is taking a carrot-and-stick approach to V5R4 customers here in 2011. The Power6 and Power6+ machines are the last ones to support V5R4, and the carrot is that IBM extended the marketing life for i5/OS V5R4 until May 27. V5R4 already had one stay, having been scheduled to be pulled from further sales on January 5, 2010, and in the fall of 2009, when the Power7 machines were not yet out, IBM pushed the date out to January 7, 2011, matching the withdrawal date of that Power6/6+ iron above. The sticks that IBM is using to encourage customers to move ahead include a 25 percent price hike i5/OS V5R4 licenses for Power5 through Power6+ iron and the cessation of sales of the Power6/6+ machinery.
Moving to Power7-based machines requires moving to the IBM i 6.1.1 or 7.1 operating systems, which requires program conversion to be performed. Customers who have third-party applications sometimes do not have access to the source code to do the conversion or are charged exorbitant upgrade fees to do the conversion, and they don't have budget for this. Many who have developed their own applications are trying to avoid doing the conversion because they don't want to mess with working code and they have other priorities. But IBM's moves are giving them fewer and fewer options and raising the cost of staying put.
Which brings me to China. I wonder why IBM's Chinese subsidiary is exempt from the withdrawal, but I have a feeling that China is a kind of dumping ground for older iron at this point. For one thing, IBM is manufacturing the entry Power Systems machines in its factories there, and has been for years. I believe that the initial manufacturing deal was for supplying customers in the Asia/Pacific region, but I would not be at all surprised to find out that the Chinese factories are making all entry Power boxes and have been for years. If IBM has inventories in its Chinese factories, exempting them from the withdrawals would be a way to blow out the inventory. I think that this is what is happening, in fact.
For instance, last week, IBM was bragging about how the largest rural bank in China, the Guangdong Cooperative, which operates banks in seven Chinese cities with 99 member banks and a combined 5,600 bank branches, is dumping a mix of Oracle and Hewlett-Packard machines supporting 23 different banking systems and moving over to Power Systems machines. What did Guangdong Cooperative get for its "new" iron? A mix of Power 570 enterprise and Power 595 high-end servers, plus some Power-based blades and DS8300 disk arrays. These Power servers and disks are all several years old; I am not sure how old the blades are because they were not identified by model.
One last thing: being ripped out of the IBM catalog does not mean that Big Blue is no longer supporting a product. IBM will provide support on Power6 and Power6+ iron for many years to come, and ditto for OS/400 V5R3 and i5/OS V5R4, just as it will do for AIX 5.3. The earlier V5R3 had regular support pulled on April 30, 2009, and has been on program support extension (support for an additional fee above and beyond normal Software Maintenance, or SWMA) since then. That extended support currently runs until April 30, 2012. IBM has not even announced end of support for V5R4, but most people expect it to come in April 2012 – and expect this to be announced any day now. IBM could provide extended support for V5R4 for two or three years, depending on demand. ®