Does your IT shop use a combination wrench?

More and more, IT shops seem inclined to consolidate and simplify their infrastructure to one platform. A mindset that all workloads can or should run on a single platform incorporated into ‘Software-defined this’ and ‘Software-defined that’.  It tantalizes the decision makers senses as vendors claim to reduce complexity and cost.

Technology has become Ford vs Chevy or John Deere vs Case International.  Whereas these four vendors each have some unique capabilities and offerings they are also leaders in innovation and reliability.  For IT shops, there is this perception that only Intel & VMware are viable infrastructure options to deploy every workload type.  Mission / Life critical workloads in healthcare, high-frequency financial transactions, HPC, Big Data, Analytics, emerging Cognitive & AI but also traditional ERP workloads that run entire businesses – SAP ECC, SAP HANA and Oracle EBS are probably the most common that I see as there are also some industry specific ones for Industrial and automotive companies – I’m thinking of Infor.

When a new project comes up, there is little thought given to the platform. either the business or maybe the ISV will state what and how many of server X should be ordered. The parts arrive, eventually getting deployed.  Little consideration is given to the total cost of ownership or the the impact to the business caused by the system complexity.

I’ve watched a client move their Oracle workloads to IBM POWER several years ago. This allowed them to reduce their software licensing and annual maintenance cost as well as to redeploy licensing to other projects – cost avoidance by not having to add net new licensing.  As it happens in business, people moved on, out and up. New people came in whose answer to everything was Intel + VMware.  Yes, a combination wrench.

If any of you have used a combination wrench,  you know there are a few times it is the proper tool. However, it can also strip or round over the head of a bolt or nut if too much pressure or torque is applied. Sometimes the proper tool is a SAE or Metric box wrench, possible a socket, even an impact wrench.  In this clients case, they have started to move their Oracle workloads from POWER to Intel.  Workloads currently running on standalone servers or at most using 2-node PowerHA clusters.  Moving these simple (little complexity) Oracle VM’s to 6-node VMware Oracle RAC clusters that have now grown to 8-nodes.  Because we all know that Oracle RAC scales really well (please tell me you picked up on the sarcasm).

I heard from the business earlier this year that they had to buy over $5M of net-new Oracle licensing for this new environment. Because of this unforeseen expense, they are moving other commercial products to open-source since we all know that open-source is “free” to offset the Oracle cost.

Oh, I forgot to mention.  That 8-node VMWare Oracle RAC cluster is crashing virtually every day.  I guess they are putting too much pressure on the combination wrench!

Not on the Dell/EMC Bandwagon. More of the same. OpenPOWER changes the game!

Reading articles about the two companies consummation on 9/7/16 around social media yesterday, one would think the marriage included a new product or solution which was revolutionizing the industry.  I haven’t heard of any but  I do know that both companies have continued to shed employee’s and sell off assets not core to the go-forward business to capture critical capital to fund the massive $63B deal.  They will also continue to evaluate products from both Dell & EMC’s traditional product portfolios to phase out, merge, sell or kill due to redundancies and other reasons.  It just happens. For them to say otherwise is misleading at best.  Frankly, it hurts their credibility when they deny this as there are examples already of this occurring.

Going forward I do not see how the combined products of Dell, which at its core sell commodity Intel servers that are not even best of breed, but rather the low-cost leader paired with the high-end products from EMC, which had high development cost will be any different on 9/8/16 than it was on 9/6/16.  EMC’s problem of customers moving away from the high margin high-end storage systems to the highly competitive, lower margin All Flash Array products will not be any better for the newly combined company.  This AFA space has many good competitors who offer “Good Enough” features that can offer clients 1) Lower cost 2) Comparable or better features 3) Not a tier-1 player who some customers resist due to feeling they overpay for the privilege to work with them.

About 2 years ago, EMC absorbed VCE with its Converged infrastructure called vBlock, a term I argue it is not but instead is a Integrated Infrastructure built on VMware, Cisco UCS and EMC Storage.  VMware & EMC storage offer nothing unique. UCS is unique in the Intel space but with the messy split from the VCE tri-union and now VCE who is placing a lot of emphasis on their own hyper-converged offerings as well as products from Dell due to this new found marriage.  It only makes sense to de-emphasize Cisco from a VCE solution and start promoting Dell products.  This goes from using the leader in Intel blade solutions to the “me-too” Dell products which is average in a field of “Good Enough” technology whose most notable feature is its low cost.

As I listen to the IBM announcement today that include 3 new OpenPOWER servers I can’t help but wonder how much longer Dell’s low cost advantage will remain.  Not sure what they will use for SAP HANA workloads requiring > 4 socket Intel servers since HPE just bought SGI, primarily for its 32 socket Intel server/technology.  I guess they could partner with Lenovo on their x3950 or with Cisco on their C880 which I believe they actually OEM from Hitachi. Dell servers are woefully inadequate with regard to RAS features; not just against POWER servers but even against other Intel competitors like Lenovo (thanks to their IBM purchase of xSeries), Hitachi and Fujitsu who all have stronger offerings relative to what Dell offers.   RAS features simply cost more which is why you didn’t see IBM with its xSeries, Hitachi or Fujitsu be volume leaders. This is also why you are seeing more software defined solutions built to mask hardware deficiencies. This in itself has its own problems.

Here is a quick review of today’s announcements. The first server is a 2 socket 2U server built for Big Data hosting 12 internal front facing drive slots.  The next server is a 2 socket 1U server offering almost 7K threads in a 42U rack.  It provides tremendous performance for clients looking for data-rich and dense computing.  The 3rd server is a 2 socket 2U server that is the first commercial system to offer NVIDIA‘s NVLink technology connecting 2 or 4 GPU’s directly to each other as well as to the CPU’s.  Every connection is 160 GB/s bi-directional which is roughly 5X what is available on Intel servers using GPU’s connected to PCIe3 adapter slots.

openpower_family_sept2016

These OpenPOWER systems allow clients to build their own solution or as part of a integrated product with storage and management stack built on OpenStack.  Ideal for Big Data, Analytics, HPC, Cloud, DevOps and open source workloads like SugarCRM, NoSQL, MariaDB, PostgreSQL (I like EnterpriseDB for support) or even IBM’s vast software portfolio such as DB2 v11.1.

Pricing for the 3 new OpenPOWER models as well as the first 2 announced earlier in the year is available at Scale-out Linux on page. I recently did a pricing comparison for a customer with several 2 socket Dell servers vs a comparable 2 socket S822LC.  Both the list and web price for the Dell solution were more expensive than OpenPOWER.  The Dell list price was approximately 35% more and the web list price was 10% more and I was using the price as shown on the IBM OpenPOWER page provided in the link in this same paragraph.  Clients looking to deploy large clusters, compute farms or simply want to start lowering infrastructure cost should take a hard look at OpenPOWER.  If you can install Linux on an Intel server,  you have the skills to manage a OpenPOWER server.  Rocket Scientist need not apply!

If you have questions, encourage you to contact your local or favorite business partner.  If you do not have one, I would be happy to work with you.