IBM To Cut System P Server Prices, Hone System P Blade Distribution


In addition, the company is dropping the prices of its current System p blades in anticipation of new models featuring the soon-to-be-released POWER6 processor.

Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide marketing and strategy for IBM's System p servers, said solution providers have asked IBM to simplify the distribution of the System p blade servers to eliminate potential conflicts from non-System p solution providers that still have access to the blades through some of IBM's distributors.

Rack-mount System p servers are available through only two distributors, Avnet and Arrow Electronics, and are purchased through IBM's Advanced Administration System (AAS) authorization channels, Handy said.

However, IBM's BladeCenter chassis, which can be used for all the company's server blades, including the System p blades and the x86-based System x blades, are available through IBM's High Volume Easily Configurable (HVEC) channel, which includes distribution through Ingram Micro, Synnex and Tech Data, he said.

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The problem is that since the BladeCenter chassis can be used for both types of blades, some non-System p server solution providers can still sell the blades to customers that also have System x blades, according to Handy.

So starting June 15, IBM will make its System p blade servers available through Avnet and Arrow, Handy said. Then, on July 1, they will no longer be available through IBM's HVEC distributors, which means that only System p-authorized solution providers will have access to them, he said.

At the same time, to further differentiate the System p and System x blade sales, all BladeCenter chassis sales through the AAS channel must also include a minimum of one System p blade server, either a two-way blade with or without a 2-Mbyte cache and a 73-Gbyte hard drive, or a four-way blade with or without a 4-Mbyte cache and a 73-Gbyte hard drive, Handy said. The enclosure must also include a Cisco Gbit Ethernet blade switch and a power cable.

"The focus is to get current System p VARs to also sell blades," Handy said. "Now, only a minority do. This is something they told us to fix in order to help them get going on the blades."

System p solution providers welcomed the change in distribution. David Browning, executive vice president of Advanced Systems Group, an Irvine, Calif.-based IBM solution provider, said the move will endorse the natural value that System p server partners bring to multiserver, multi-operating system BladeCenter implementations.

"This should result in a higher skill delivery, which will lead to improved customer satisfaction," Browning said.

The change is a way to ensure that customers get quality implementations, said David Stone, vice president of business development at Solutions-II, a Littleton, Colo.-based IBM partner.

"This is not an IBM statement to keep the System p out of open distribution," Stone said. "It's a statement of quality. It's good for the customer."

This week will see IBM also drop the price of its current System p servers, based on the POWER5+ processor, by 15 percent to 25 percent as it prepares for the release of the POWER6-based System p servers in the next couple of months, Handy said. The cuts will be a combination of price reductions and promotions and will apply to the midrange System p 5 570 servers and high-end 590 and 595 servers, he said.

Solutions-II's Stone said the price cut may not necessarily spur new customer sales of the System p servers. "But it will ensure that customers don't wait for the POWER6," he said. "It's a good way to deal with the fact that IBM needs to talk about the new technology that is coming out while ensuring their POWER5+ inventory continues to move."

When the POWER6 processors become available, it could mean significant improvements to the System p servers, sales of which are way up from last year, said Richard Lechner, vice president of IT optimization at IBM.

In addition to double the performance and a huge spike in scalability compared with POWER5, the POWER6 processors are expected to qualify for certification for level 5 of the Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL), an international standard of how well processes can be isolated from each other in a computer system, Lechner said.

Currently, only IBM mainframes are certified for EAL5, which guarantees that if a processor is partitioned into virtual servers, each process is completely isolated. IBM's POWER5+ servers are EAL4-plus certified, Lechner said. In the x86 world, EAL2 is the highest level achieved.

Because EAL5 hardens partitions within a processor from processes outside a partition's current process, getting that certification for POWER6 would be a power consolidation play for IBM's System p servers, Lechner said.

"It would collapse the virtual topology of servers, not only virtualizing the servers but the network," he said. "It would increase performance and security because the [virtual] servers would not need to talk to each other over a network."

Assuming POWER6 gets EAL5 certified, it would be a big deal for customers in highly regulated environments, said Jack Russell, manager of the Advanced Technology Group at Lowery Systems, a Fenton, Mo.-based IBM solution provider.

For example, Russell said, a customer that needs to be HIPAA-compliant might have a service-level agreement that requires certain applications to run on multiple boxes. "ISVs might say they won't support you if you don't run their application on a separate server," he said. "But with hardened partitions, they will support it."