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TCO Prompts Businesses to Choose Power Systems Over x86

TCO Power Systems

“Are x86-based systems distinctly better at ingesting and processing data than competing systems? IDC believes that the short answer is: they’re not.” This quote from an IDC report (ibm.co/2Dq2SQf) should cause many companies to stop and rethink their headlong rush to put all workloads on x86. While clients implement a new application on an x86 platform or move an existing workload to x86 for several reasons, the perceived benefits of lower cost usually top the list.

That decision usually goes hand-in-hand with the desire to standardize on Linux* or an open computing platform to take advantage of the open-source solutions available on the market today. Unfortunately, decisions like this are often made at the expense of performance, reliability, scalability and manageability. Moreover, they’re driven by the impression that x86 will solve all of the organization’s computing challenges—when often that isn’t the case. This article explains why investing in the IBM Power Systems* platform is a better choice.

Client Case Studies

Here are five real-life examples of businesses that chose to invest in Power Systems rather than continuing to run on, or migrate to, x86-based systems. In all of these examples, we summarize the key issues facing each company and the benefits the IBM Power Systems platform provided to each client over x86.

U.S. Manufacturing Company
A large U.S. manufacturer runs its business on four Power E870 systems. The primary workloads are Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) and business intelligence (BI). All of these systems were operating very well with no performance or reliability issues.

Oracle EBS is one of their most critical workloads, requiring 24-7-365 availability. If the system running this application goes down, many business processes across the company are impacted, including important periodic updates to the BI system.

Like all clients today, planning for growth without affecting critical business applications was the key aspect driving the discussion on what infrastructure would be best going forward. This, plus a very real need to contain and manage their Oracle licensing costs, pushed the client to begin looking at an alternative platform to their Power Systems E870 boxes, despite the fact that these systems were performing flawlessly.

The client had limited interest in moving to a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. There was also some discussion about moving just the Oracle databases to x86 and leaving the EBS, BI and other non-Oracle applications on POWER. Subsequent elimination of both these options left the client with two basic choices:

  • Continue running leased E870s through 2018 and then upgrade to POWER9* in 2019
  • Migrate all Oracle workloads to x86 blades from Cisco running RHEL and VMware

The client needed to better manage and contain its rising costs for Oracle licensing. It would be costly for the manufacturer to increase the number of licensed cores, which would be a very real possibility if the Cisco x86 platform was chosen. A previous attempt to free up additional capacity for the EBS workload had been met with adverse effects due to Oracle’s licensing schema and per core pricing.

The CIO was intent on confirming the business benefits of continuing to run on POWER8* versus migrating to an x86 environment. IBM’s IT Economics team was engaged to build a financial business case to help the manufacturer decide on the best platform choice going forward (ibm.co/2BnXbiZ).

The business case ultimately showed a savings potential of $4.2 million over five years by continuing to run on the Power Systems platform. In addition, the IT Economics case showed a 44 percent savings in annual operating expenses, due in large part to a projected 59 percent reduction in annual Oracle subscription and support costs.

The fact that the Power Systems servers had never had performance issues or suffered an unplanned outage further emphasized to the manufacturer the intrinsic benefits of the Power platform versus an x86 alternative. As a result, the company intends to invest in new POWER9 systems at the end of their existing POWER8 lease sometime this year.

North American Consumer Goods Company
A large North American retailer (and long-time IBM client) had invested heavily in Lenovo x86-based appliances for its SAP HANA Business Warehouse (BW) environment, and was planning to migrate its SAP ERP Central Component (ECC), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Advanced Planner Optimizer (APO) workloads to SAP Business Suite on HANA.

Earlier, the company had successfully migrated their SAP Human Resources (HR) environment from x86 to an AIX* on Power Systems environment, and was already beginning to see the benefits of running on the POWER platform. They had the option to continue running the bulk of their SAP workloads on the Lenovo x86 platform or migrate all of them to POWER using a mix of AIX and SUSE Linux.

Several requirements defined the future state vision of the company’s SAP environment. Foremost was the need to consolidate all workloads onto one ECC landscape while at the same time lowering TCO and containing costs in the transition to SAP S/4HANA. Additionally, the solution required flexibility and ease in managing the peaks and valleys of capacity demand. Lastly, because of the company’s developing global reach, the solution could not tolerate downtime, planned or unplanned.

The key question to be answered was whether an x86 or POWER processor-based environment would best address all of the company’s requirements. A financial business case was developed for the company’s SAP S/4HANA environment using a comparative cost of ownership model for an x86 solution versus a POWER solution over a three-year period. The model clearly demonstrated that an IBM Power E880 would provide the flexibility, cost containment and reliability the company’s operations demanded.

Current cost of ownership would be reduced by 55 percent, saving the company $2.9 million over the next three years (net investment of $2 million in new Power Systems servers). This represented a six-month payback and a 140 percent ROI.

In addition, the capability to run both Big Endian and Little Endian workloads on the same system in different LPARs would greatly improve operational efficiencies and facilitate a virtualized environment with an enhanced ability to share resources and mix workloads. Coupled with the virtues of automated takeover using SAP HANA system replication, POWER8 hardware provided the company with a highly available solution that was well-positioned for supporting future hybrid cloud-based business initiatives.

The key turning point for the company was a visit to Bosch in Stuttgart and to the IBM SAP International Competency Center (ibm.co/2n4xQ8M) in Waldorf, Germany, where the client was able to hear the benefits of running SAP HANA on the Power Systems platform firsthand.

Ultimately, the company chose to purchase three IBM Power E880 systems running SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 and AIX. They have since made plans for additional Power Systems servers to support SAP Business Suite on HANA and BW.

International Banking Company
A large international bank headquartered in Latin America ran its core banking applications on a mix of older x86- and Itanium-based servers. The age of these servers made them subject to unplanned outages, and they struggled to deliver the performance the bank required for its mission-critical applications.

As the bank planned for future infrastructure requirements, IT leaders knew they needed to resolve some key issues, not the least of which was to consolidate their core banking applications onto a single standardized platform with the lowest possible operational cost. They also had growing concerns around the rising energy and space consumption issues sparked by unchecked server sprawl.

The bank worked with IBM’s IT Economics team to build a technical and financial business case to determine the feasibility of consolidating all its core banking applications to IBM Power Systems versus continuing to run these applications on x86-based systems.

IBM’s sizing projections were based on the client’s assumed 30 percent annual compound growth rate on CPU and memory requirements. Applying these projections, the financial model bore a $15 million savings potential over a period of five years by consolidating to POWER versus x86 (see Figure 1). This was largely achievable due to the three-to-one per core performance advantages of POWER8 over available x86 processor technologies coupled with higher sustainable utilization rates experienced on Power Systems enterprise systems.

Analysis for the bank’s workloads showed that the POWER solution would require roughly one-tenth the number of cores required by the x86 alternative. This significant reduction would help the bank achieve a savings of $18 million in Oracle licensing, service and support costs. Moreover, this move would lead to a 58 percent reduction in annual operating expenses as well as a 90 percent reduction in electrical power consumption.

Most importantly, the availability of Power Systems Capacity on Demand (CoD) capabilities would enable the bank to meet its anticipated growth rates without investing in additional servers down the road.

With just three E870 servers, the bank was able to consolidate all its core banking applications onto a significantly smaller server footprint resulting in lower power consumption and increased performance and reliability.

LiveMon, an IT solution company, built the first version of its comprehensive 24-7-365 monitoring system on x86 Linux platforms.

As LiveMon looked at ramping up services to take on much larger enterprise clients, they understood the importance of maintaining sub-second response times for event monitoring and reporting. IT leaders knew their current infrastructure would struggle to expand beyond 1,000 servers to support new clients so they had to be sure that sub-second response times wouldn’t be affected by whatever solution was chosen.

LiveMon decided to evaluate POWER8 servers by deploying its solution on Power S822L systems. LiveMon immediately saw a 2x performance increase out of the box, even though its software was heavily optimized for the x86 architecture (bit.ly/2rvuGjH). LiveMon also found that POWER8 support of Little Endian enabled it to run its x86 code without modification. With optimization help from IBM, LiveMon was able to achieve an 8x performance boost.

A key competitive differentiator is the artificial intelligence (AI) capability of LiveMon’s solution, which can automatically detect and warn the client about upcoming threats to availability, capacity, performance and security across their hybrid infrastructures. This capability is made possible, at a large scale, by the massive multithreading capability of the POWER8 processor and the high-speed connections between the processors.

The evaluation led LiveMon to deploy 112 S822L systems worldwide with software designed to scale up or out. The LiveMon solution runs on 112 S822L servers worldwide, as opposed to more than 1,000 x86 servers. The POWER8 servers deliver an 8x performance increase for LiveMon’s code and 24-7 availability—all at a much lower overall cost.

Earth Signal
Discovering valuable oil and gas reserves depends on interpreting seismic data to construct models of what lies underground. Many exploration companies engage partners such as Earth Signal to perform 2-D and 3-D seismic analysis and put it into a form their geologists can interpret. Earth Signal competes on price and response time, which means squeezing the most compute power out of the smallest possible footprint. The company’s x86 systems were out of capacity and the data center lacked room to add more hardware, and the client had no desire to build a new one.

Attracted by the number of cores and threads per POWER8 processor, Earth Signal did a benchmark and found that one POWER8 processor could outperform multiple x86-based Xeon processors. Another benchmark showed that a 2U POWER8 system could complete in 60 hours a job that took a 21U Xeon system 100 hours.

And because of the x86 clusters, Earth Signal had to copy all of its data to each node, taking up nine hours and then another nine hours to copy it back. The POWER8 systems have enough threads in each node to run these jobs immediately. This was a savings of 18 hours, which, for some deals, could be the difference between winning and losing.

Making the Choice

IBM has hundreds of case studies just like the aforementioned examples, which demonstrate the advantages of the Power Systems platform over x86.

The experiences of LiveMon, Earth Signal and others convey a few important lessons. First, think very hard before you replace a perfectly good Power Systems server that has been running without performance, reliability or scalability issues, especially when the replacement is an x86-based solution that you think will cost less and be easier to manage. POWER servers offer these benefits over x86: increased performance, decreased server footprint and improved reliability.

Open-source databases and SAP HANA on the Power Systems platform are fitting examples of why having a choice is important. The IBM POWER platform is an efficient and cost-effective alternative for these mission-critical business applications. Moreover, Linux on Power Systems is as open as any x86 solution on the market today. Openness (or a perceived lack thereof) is not a valid reason for choosing x86 over POWER.

Infrastructure really does matter. If you don’t take into consideration your application and workload characteristics and map these to the right architecture, your infrastructure will ultimately increase your IT costs.

Susan Proietti Conti is the WW Program Director for the IBM Competitive Project Office and has over 20 years of experience working in IBM SW and HW development and product management. Susan is a certified IBM Executive Project Manager and PMP®.

John F. Ryan is a senior IT consultant with IBM. John can be reached at jfryan1@us.ibm.com.

Skip Garvin is a Senior Technical Solutions Manager for IBM System Lab Services Migration Factory and has over 45 years of worldwide sales, marketing and technology experience. During Skip's 14 years in the IBM Migration Factory he has worked on thousands of migration projects including Unix, Linux and Legacy operating environments.

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