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Top IBM Power Systems myths: Migrating to Power from x86 is costly, painful and risky

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“Migrating your Oracle databases to IBM Power Systems is dangerous, expensive and very high risk.”

That advice came from a well-known consulting company to a client planning to migrate its mission-critical databases from x86 to Power Systems.

Such comments are not unusual, and it makes no difference if the migration is to AIX or Linux. Myths can be propagated by competitors, consultants or even technical folks in an organization who don’t want to change. Regardless of the origin, it’s an easy myth to dispel.

I did a blog series on migration in 2017 and 2018 that explored common concerns when organizations face a migration. It also described the methodologies, tools and services we have to allay your worries, minimize risk and complete a migration without disrupting day-to-day business.

For this post, rather than just telling you this is a myth, I want to show you why it’s a myth using a few examples of clients whose businesses thrived after migrating to Power Systems running Linux.

Custom code applications

Here are three examples of clients who took their x86 application code, recompiled it on Power Systems, and ran it without having to make a single change. The initial performance was significantly better and, with optimization, increased to as much as 8X over the x86-based solution.

Earth Signal

Earth Signal Processing LTD specializes in onshore high-resolution 2D and 3D seismic data processing, helping clients find oil with ultra-fast, ultra-dense computing.

I spoke with Kevin Rakos, Earth Signal’s Systems Administrator, who told me the company’s applications are written in very simple C and only use C++ if necessary. The code is:

  • Endian neutral, allowing it to run on either big endian or little endian systems without requiring changes
  • ANSI/POSIX compliant
  • Not optimized for the x86 platform

Kevin said there are approximately two million lines of code (800 programs and about 150 libraries), and it took about an hour to recompile on Power. The software ran without requiring any changes, and Earth Signal achieved a 40 percent performance improvement without any optimization. The POWER8 systems fit in 1/10 the rack space required by the x86 solution. Earth Signal also saw a 40 percent reduction in energy and cooling requirements.

Kevin also mentioned that when they moved this code to POWER9 they saw a 100 percent performance improvement without recompiling or optimizing the code.

See the full Case Study for details.

LiveMon

LiveMon is a worldwide supplier of intelligent hyper-scalable monitoring solutions that provide clients with real time (24×7) alerts to ensure their critical systems are always available, and log search at terabytes per second.

LiveMon built the first version of its monitoring system on x86 and Linux. LiveMon’s CEO, Marc Pertron, wanted to have another option and after a short evaluation migrated its application to a POWER8 platform.

LiveMon’s application is written in FPC (Free Pascal Compiler) and assembly language, and was highly optimized for the x86 platform. Marc said their code base was approximately 200,000 lines, and it recompiled on the POWER8 system in under two hours. The little endian support in POWER8 enabled the x86 code to run without modification, and the initial performance was 2X the performance of the x86 solution. Additional optimization saw an 8X improvement.

Even porting the compiler was done in two days.

Check out this video, where Marc describes LiveMon’s experience migrating to POWER8.

Vuble

Vuble is a video advertising platform that builds analytics, optimization and measurement solutions that streamline the media trading process. By leveraging behavioral and environmental data, Vuble analyzes, optimizes and measures every impression through the media buying/trading process.

For Vuble, the migration was even easier because it didn’t have to recompile anything. Vuble runs Ubuntu Linux and uses a basic LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack that has precompiled packages available for PPC64 Linux distributions.

Pierre Claudon, CTO for Vuble, said, “We use these servers for Web Services so we didn’t have anything to recompile. The transition was very quick and easy as it was (almost) just moving files from one server to another.”

Vuble saw a 5X reduction in the number of physical servers, a 15 percent reduction in response times and a 94 percent reduction in server administration.

Claudon points out another benefit that really helps dispel the myth that migrating to Power from x86 is costly, painful and risky: “We have also set up a hybrid development/production landscape. Developers continue to write their code on the same x86 workstations they have always used, then deploy it on the Power Systems servers.”

See the full Case Study to learn more.

Databases

Databases are usually low-risk migrations. Here is an example of just how low risk they can be.

Unnamed retail company

A large North American retailer with a hybrid database environment that includes Db2/LUW, MongoDB and Redis needed to undertake a database migration. It had one batch application running on an x86 system that was consuming all available cycles on the system. A proof of concept was set up to see how well this application would perform on a POWER8/Linux platform. The application executed 12X faster that the x86 and Linux system with just 10 percent processor utilization, and tasks that took more than 24 hours now complete in less than one hour.

The basic MongoDB dump/restore program was used to migrate the database from x86 to POWER8, and it was completed in one business day without incident.

SAP HANA

Coop

The Coop Group is one of the largest supermarket chains in Switzerland, with more than 2,200 branches and outlets. Like many of the early adopters of SAP HANA, Coop purchased the x86 appliance version because it was the only solution available at the time.

It needed a new and more flexible solution due to market pressures, a 30 percent per year data growth rate, plus limitations in the x86 architecture that forced Coop to reduce the volume of data it fed into the SAP analytics application.

Coop replaced its eight node scale-out cluster with a single LPAR running on one of its four E880 scale-up servers running IBM PowerVM and SUSE Linux and saw a 5X performance improvement in analytics with 85 percent fewer cores. The migration was completed in less than two months without incident. Read the Case Study for details.

The advantages are clear

There’s cost and risk in any migration project, and it has to be measured against the cost and risk of not doing a migration. In the examples above, the migration risks were minimal, and the cost/benefit analysis done by these clients validated the move to a Power-based solution. In many cases, there can be more risk in leaving applications on the x86 platform than in moving them to Power Systems.

These five clients are representative of thousands of clients that have migrated their x86 based applications and databases to IBM Power Systems. Time and again, the benefits to the client are clear:

  • Performance increased
  • Reliability increased
  • Footprint (number of cores and physical systems) decreased
  • Systems administration cost decreased

My question to any company running an x86 environment would be this: “Like Earth Signal, if you could move to a Power-based solution and get a 40 percent performance improvement, reduce energy and cooling costs by 40 percent and do it all in 1/10 the rack space of your current x86 systems…why would you not want to do that?”

IBM Systems Lab Services has a team of experienced consultants ready to help you get the most out of your Linux on Power system. Reach out to us today if you have questions about migrating x86 based applications and databases to IBM Power Systems, and watch for the next post in the series coming in January 2019.

Additional resources

Here are some links to sites that will help you understand how easy it is to migrate x86 applications to IBM Power-based platforms:

 

Senior Technical Solutions Manager, IBM System Lab Services Migration Factory

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