IBM Continues Mainstreaming Power Systems and Integrating Red Hat in Pivot to Cloud

By John Russell

February 23, 2021

As IBM continues its massive pivot to the cloud, its Power-microprocessor-based products are being mainstreamed and realigned with the corporate-wide strategy. HPC, while not out, is being de-emphasized and traditional enterprise and cloud/hybrid cloud markets are being targeted. Today, Big Blue announced a new Power-based private cloud rack solution and the porting of key Red Hat OpenShift capabilities to Power.

Steve Sibley, IBM vice president of global offering management, described the strategy to HPCwire in a pre-briefing, “We think of this in two areas. One is from an infrastructure standpoint giving clients agility and flexibility to run their workloads either on premises or in the cloud. This is the hybrid cloud transformation story with an emphasis from our standpoint on making that as frictionless as possible for clients. We’ve implemented Power systems in the IBM Cloud in a way that mirrors the architecture most of our clients use on premises. Our ISVs are supporting us for the most part without [requiring] retest and recertification. You can run SAP HANA, you can run on Oracle, you can run all of the AIX and IBM i offerings on premises or in the cloud [on Power systems].

“The second piece is around the application modernization. Most clients recognize the value of cloud native [and] all the new development on containers and with microservices. Most of it is extending what they already have versus completely rewriting everything. They may keep their core business applications running on Oracle or DB2 environment, or running on a traditional VM, but then, with APIs and connectors into new services such as mobile payments, or risk analytics, or those types of things that are getting written in OpenShift.”

A quick overview of OpenShift may be in order here. Broadly, OpenShift is a family of containerization software products developed by Red Hat. Its core product is the OpenShift Container Platform — an on-premises platform as a service built around Docker containers and orchestrated and managed by Kubernetes on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Among other things, OpenShift is positioned as a powerful enabler of hybrid cloud use.

Here are the highlights excerpted from the IBM announcement:

  • Expanded Red Hat Capabilities on IBM Power Systems – IBM Power Systems now features Red Hat OpenShift on IBM Power Virtual Server leveraging OpenShift’s bare metal installer[i], Red Hat Runtimes, and newly certified Red Hat Ansible Content Collections.
  • New IBM Power Private Cloud Rack Solution – Providing clients an optimized, production-level OpenShift platform to modernize traditional environments with cloud-native applications, the IBM Power Private Cloud Rack combines on-premises hardware, a complete software stack of IBM and Red Hat technology, and installation from IBM Systems Lab Services to deliver 49% lower cost per request as compared to similarly equipped x86-based platforms[ii].
  • Extended Dynamic Capacity – Enhancements to IBM Power System’s dynamic capacity to quickly scale compute capacity across the hybrid cloud on Linux, IBM i, and AIX.

Parsing IBM’s Power-based cloud offerings can be confusing. It has two similarly named products, the Power Private Cloud Rack, which is the new solution bundle being announced today, and the Power Private Cloud with Dynamic Capacity, which is a renaming of what was “Enterprise Pools 2.0.” Finally, IBM’s uber Power Cloud, distinct from its x86-based IBM Cloud, is called IBM Power Virtual Services and consists of Power-based infrastructure loosely co-located with IBM’s x86-based cloud.

Here’s how IBM distinguished between the two on premise solutions (apologies for slight repetition with above bullet):

  • “The IBM Power Private Cloud Rack Solution – A pre-configured on-premises system with compute, storage, networking and pre-installed software, like Red Hat OpenShift, to match an organization’s existing infrastructure, be it based around Linux, IBM i, or AIX, to help organizations operationalize their cloud management and provide an IaaS environment to help clients accelerate development and operations for Kubernetes container-based cloud-native applications with Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform.
  • “IBM had already enabled flexible, elastic capacity for on-premises Power Private Cloud with Dynamic Capacity, allowing those users to unlock additional compute cores as needed and get cloud-like consumption-based pricing. Now, IBM is extending that ability to the hybrid cloud by piloting hybrid capacity credits, which can be purchased and used to unlock capacity on select on-premises IBM POWER9-based servers as well as IBM Power Virtual Servers, based on where the user needs the additional compute power. IBM is also working with other ecosystem partners to further extend dynamic capacity across multiple Linux distributions.”

It’s a cumbersome distinction but perhaps a little messiness is unavoidable as IBM shifts around the pieces of its Power portfolio. The basic idea is clear – to leverage Red Hat OpenShift to deliver a user experience that is largely indistinguishable from that experienced in the x86 landscape, but which IBM claims offers better performance and lower TOC.

IBM hopes its Power portfolio will ride OpenShift’s growing popularity. Sibley noted Red Hat’s Ansible automation platform (provisioning, configuration, etc.) and its Marketplace (OpenShift-certified software) as important in the mainstreaming of Power systems by making them easier to use and support. Along those lines, IBM reported just adding “22 new Ansibles modules that bring new automation capabilities for common tasks like patch management, security management, OS and application deployment, continuous delivery, centralized backup and recovery, and virtualization management & provisioning.” That brings the total number of POWER-supported Ansible modules to 102.

IBM issued an RFA (ready for announcement) earlier in the month with the following description of the new Power cloud rack solution, which is available in two deployment sizes:

PPC Rack for new deployments

  • Three-node configuration, or more
  • Includes an IBM FlashSystem 5200, IBM Storage Networking SAN24B-6 switches, and an optional LAN switch
  • Contains Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 8, IBM PowerVM Enterprise Edition, IBM Cloud PowerVC Manager, Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform (OCP), and Red Hat OpenShift OpenShift Container Storage (OCS)

PPC Rack starter deployment

  • Single-node configuration
  • Network File System (NFS) storage only
  • Includes RHEL 8, PowerVM, PowerVC, and Red Hat OCP

Power Systems enhancements

  • The PCIe3 2-Port 16 Gb Fibre Channel (FC) Adapter (#EN1G/#EN1H), which was originally announced with AIX® OS support only, now provides support for Linux.
  • A new feature #ENSM helps to instruct manufacturing to create multiple namespaces of the same size, as indicated by the IBM i Load Source Name Space specify code size, on the U.2 NVMe load source mirrored device pair.

The new systems are Power9 microprocessor based but there are plans to bring Power10 systems to market said IBM: “2021 is expected to see a massive adoption of hybrid cloud, and IBM IT Infrastructure is ready to meet that demand. Later this year, the next generation of the IBM Power Systems servers based on IBM Power10, which was built from the ground up for hybrid cloud, will debut. In addition, later this year the next generation for the AIX operating system, version 7.3, is expected to continue the legacy of innovation with enhanced capabilities that deliver the resiliency, security, and scale needed for the hybrid cloud.”

IBM also showcased a user in today’s announcement: Shree Cement Ltd., one of India’s largest cement producers with nearly $2 billion in revenue last year, “selected IBM Power9-based IBM Power Systems to run a combination of Red Hat and AIX to help them modernize their IT infrastructure with hybrid cloud. When Shree needed to streamline their supply chain while also increasing its computing capacity, they knew they needed to refresh their existing Oracle-based infrastructure,” according to the official release.

“We were in the midst of technology modernization and were looking for a dependable IT Infrastructure support that could deliver 24/7 capabilities and integrate the operations, logistics, resources, export-import supply chain, said Manoranjan Kumar, Chief Information Officer, Shree Cement Ltd. “The two operating systems on IBM Power Systems, namely IBM AIX and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, helped us move away from vertical business silo approach.  This allows us to operate horizontally across the company to bring in synergy amongst multiple manufacturing plants to drive business results and ensure business continuity even during the migrations.”

Few details on Shree’s on-premise/cloud use breakdown were disclosed nor was pricing generally for the IBM’s new on premise Power rack system.

It will be interesting to watch the Power/OpenShift gambit play out.

[i] Red Hat Knowledge Base article, “Deploying OpenShift 4.x on non-tested platforms using the bare metal install method – https://access.redhat.com/articles/4207611 .

[ii] This is an IBM internal study designed to replicate multi-tier banking OLTP workload usage in the marketplace of an IBM E950 (40-core Model 9040-MR9) with a total of 1 TB memory extrapolated (based on IDC QPI performance metric) to 60 cores running on 3 nodes of IBM S922 (20-core Model 9009-22G) with a total of 768 GB memory. The OpenShift cluster consisted of three master nodes and two worker nodes using OpenShift version 4.5.5 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux CoreOS (RHCOS) for IBM Power across five PowerVM LPARs. A sixth PowerVM LPAR on the system ran the OpenShift load balancer. SMT8 mode was enabled across all Power LPARs. Results are based on an extrapolation to 3 servers from an an x86 cluster configuration comprised of two servers running VMware ESXi 6.7 with eight VM guests (three masters, four workers, and one load balancer) using OpenShift version 4.5.6. Each worker node guest had access to all vCPUs on the physical server on which it was running. Compared x86 models for the cluster were 2-socket Cascade Lake servers containing 48 cores and 512 GB each for a total of 96 cores and 1 TB of memory. Both environments used JMeter to drive maximum throughput against four OLTP workload instances using a total of 500 JMeter threads. The results were obtained under laboratory conditions, not in an actual customer environment. IBM’s internal workload studies are not benchmark applications. Prices, where applicable, are based on U.S. prices as of 02/15/2021 from our website and x86 hardware pricing is based on IBM analysis of U.S. prices as of 09/20/2020 from IDC. Price comparison is based on a 3-year total cost of ownership including HW, SW, networking, floor space, people, energy/cooling costs and three years of service & support for production and non-production (dev, test and high availability) environments.

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