On Wednesday, April 23, IBM announced new POWER8 systems at the OpenPower Forum. But IBM customers might be disappointed, as it appears that IBM is shifting its strategic R&D focus to Linux on POWER. IBM recently stated that they will “significantly reposition POWER8” and that they are trying to displace x86 with POWER8 in hyperscale/scale-out data center deployments. IBM seems to be re-aligning POWER8 to cover lost ground since it decided to de-invest in x86 entirely, while Oracle has instead adopted the strategy of adding/building value for enterprise environments and adding functionality to enhance customer experience (our software in silicon with SPARC processors, Oracle Solaris enhancements and Engineered Systems as examples). Ultimately IBM's strategy may lower the starting price, but IBM may not be able to sustain the model nor add significant net-new value longer term with POWER or AIX.
This represents a major shift in strategy and potentially a reduced investment in POWER AIX for the enterprise.
IBM’s hardware business is in a state of major transition. Is hardware even strategic to IBM?
"They used to be a leader. Now they sell one business after the next. That is not a way to grow," said Fred Hickey, editor of The High-Tech Strategist newsletter who has followed IBM for 30 years. There is clear evidence that IBM is reducing investment in hardware:
- IBM sold their PC and Workstation business to Lenovo in 2005
- IBM just closed their deal to sell off its x86 server business to Lenovo
- IBM has retained Goldman Sachs to find a buyer for their chip fabrication facilities
- IBM delivered only two POWER updates in the last four years
- IBM doesn’t have a public POWER roadmap beyond POWER8 and AIX8
On the other hand, Oracle is doubling down on integrated hardware and software investments to support a long-term innovation roadmap and increased customer value:
- Oracle increased investment in SPARC and Oracle Solaris delivering five generations of SPARC processors in four years, and doubling performance with each release
- Oracle plans to release Solaris 11.2 next week, the world’s first cloud operating system coupled with the benefits of advanced virtualization, software-defined networking, and OpenStack integration
- The SPARC roadmap now shows three future generations of SPARC processors through 2019
- Oracle continues to invest heavily in a broad portfolio of Engineered Systems to simplify IT
Lots of Unanswered Questions
IBM leaves a lot of unanswered questions on what is going to happen next and whether its new strategy will add any real value:
- IBM’s POWER strategy is complex and unclear with its new focus in the entry/scale-out market vs. the enterprise. What do current AIX/POWER customers do?
- Can IBM and the OpenPOWER consortium deliver value with a complex multi-year effort to build a new ecosystem around design, manufacturing and software for the x86/scale out segment?
- IBM is offering customers new hardware for Linux. What are the bottom line costs and benefits for migrating Linux applications running on x86 to POWER8? What is the value for Linux on POWER over x86?
- How does IBM plan on implementing future hardware/software optimization, i.e., PureSystems and PureFLEX, while at the same time pursuing a purely OpenStack model for POWER8? For that matter, what is IBM’s current strategy for PureSystems, given that it did not announce POWER8 Flex nodes and did not mention PureSystems at its recent earnings?
Given this radical new strategy and all the surrounding uncertainty and potential risk, do customers really want to continue to invest in POWER8 and AIX?
Stay tuned for more analysis, as IBM reveals more details about POWER8.
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