IBM Power E1080: IBM Puts Power10 Muscle Behind its Hybrid Cloud Strategy

By Charles King, Pund-IT®

It is difficult to think of a Tier 1 vendor that placed a bet on cloud computing earlier than IBM. In 2007, the year after AWS launched its seminal S3 cloud storage and EC2 services, IBM announced plans to develop cloud solutions for enterprise customers. Four years later, the company said its cloud services were being used by 80 percent of the Fortune 500. Since then, IBM has become a key player in hybrid cloud, ramping up its own home-grown services bolstered by vital strategic acquisitions, including Cloudant and SoftLayer, and its stunning 2019 deal for Red Hat.

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna (the chief architect of the Red Hat deal) has continued to focus on hybrid cloud as a vital market for the company’s solutions and service offerings. So, this week’s positioning of IBM’s new Power E1080 server for hybrid cloud use cases makes strategic sense. Let’s take a closer look at IBM’s new Power10-based solution and what it offers for enterprise customers.

Modern enterprises and hybrid cloud

Before diving into the Power E1080’s features and capabilities, what are the drivers behind IBM’s development strategy?

Those might be divided into long- and shorter-term issues impacting the company’s core enterprise customers. In the former case, large organizations are continuing to explore services offered by various public cloud vendors, to adopt those aligned with their business objectives and to blend multiple cloud services with their internal IT assets and private cloud infrastructures.

By following this hybrid (multi-cloud) approach, companies aim to increase the flexibility of their computing capabilities so they can rapidly adapt to expected and unexpected shifts in market dynamics. Similarly, many businesses are actively modernizing applications via innovative container-based technologies, like Red Hat OpenShift, that enable them to gain the most from their hybrid cloud investments.

However, those same organizations face immediate or shorter-term issues which are also impactful. For example, the significant jump in cybercrimes over the past 18 months has put most companies on edge—not surprising since successful breaches or ransomware attacks can severely damage an organization’s finances and brand. In addition, businesses worldwide are still struggling with uncertainties, including fluctuating demand and supply chain interruptions related to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

Overall, enterprises that hope to maximize the benefits of hybrid cloud are best served by platforms that are highly flexible and secure, can scale performance according to shifting demands, support popular open-source container tools and other technologies, and can be easily managed and integrated with public cloud services and use cases.

These are core attributes in IBM’s new Power E1080 servers.

Putting Power10 to work

How did IBM achieve those objectives? First, it is worth noting that the Power E1080 is a follow-on to the Power E980 servers the company introduced in the fall of 2018. Like those earlier systems, the new Power E1080 solutions are the first servers to house new generation IBM Power processors which enhance core performance capabilities.

For example, the Power10-based E1080 can deliver up to 30 percent more performance per core and over 50 percent better total capacity at the socket and system level than the Power E980 which translates to 33 percent lower energy consumption for the same workload running on a Power E980 server. In addition, to improve hardware-enforced security features, the Power E1080 includes 4X more encryption engines than the Power E980, resulting in 2.5X faster AES encryption.

These new and enhanced features also translate into superior performance that commodity servers cannot provide. For example, IBM states that the Power E1080 delivers 4.1X greater throughput per core for Red Hat OpenShift containerized workloads than comparable x86-based systems.

The company also cited an IBM Power customer who consolidated 126 x86-based servers on to three Power E980 servers. IBM projects that the same customer could potentially consolidate the same workload on to two Power E1080 systems and gain an 80 percent reduction in energy requirements and a 70 percent reduction in per-core software licenses as compared to their previous x86 environment.

Power E1080 and hybrid cloud

Many of the E1080’s key benefits relate to generational advancements in IBM’s Power processor architecture. However, the company also notes that the Power E1080 “was designed to be the backbone of a hybrid cloud platform.” What does the company mean by this?

The significant improvements in containerized workload performance are certainly key points in IBM’s effort and underscore the value of its broader strategy around Red Hat whose OpenShift has become the default container platform for most public clouds. But IBM is also co-optimizing its hardware platforms, including Power servers with Red Hat’s larger software portfolio with the aim of providing customers a range of benefits in hybrid cloud and other deployments.

Along with its Red Hat-enabled capabilities, the Power E1080 also offers other significant hybrid cloud-focused features. For example, the new systems can be quickly and easily integrated with the Power Virtual Server offering co-located in IBM Cloud, simplifying hybrid cloud management.

More importantly, that architectural consistency means that mission-critical applications can be moved into cloud environments simply and without the expensive refactoring required to run applications on a different system architecture. The Power E1080 also supports hybrid cloud-ready applications across Linux, AIX and IBM i, including IBM Cloud Paks 4.0, SAP HANA and EPIC, as well as IBM Power-specific software.

It is also worth noting that the Power E1080 incorporates a fresh new Power10 feature—in-core matrix math accelerators—that delivers 5X faster AI inferencing per socket over Power E980. As a result, Power E1080 systems should be a boon to companies that are implementing or investigating new AI functions to improve the performance of hybrid cloud workloads.

Final analysis

At one level, the new Power E1080 servers qualify as the latest version of a story we have heard many times in the past – how IBM continues to drive new advances and derive fresh value from its Power silicon technologies, and then pass along those benefits to enterprise customers. But at the same time, the Power E1080 and other new Power10-based solutions that will come to market in the future highlight how IBM can meaningfully bring a longstanding technology to bear on new and emerging strategic objectives.

As I noted before, the company was well ahead of the curve and many competitors when it launched its first cloud initiatives in 2007. However, the development of solutions and services needed to make the hybrid cloud market real was not an overnight endeavor. Playing the long game technologically while keeping a finger on the pulse of its customers’ essential business needs brought IBM, Power10 and the Power E1080 to where they are today: providing an innovative new backbone for today’s hybrid cloud infrastructures and key support for the evolving needs of modern enterprises.

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