Top IBM Power Systems myths: x86 is the industry standard and Power is becoming obsolete

By | 4 minute read | March 6, 2019

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There are many misconceptions about IBM Power Systems in the marketplace today, and this blog series will help to dispel some of the top myths. In my previous post, I put aside the myth that migrating from x86 to IBM Power Systems is costly, painful and risky. In this post, we’ll look at another myth suggesting that x86 architecture is the de-facto industry standard for all applications and that Power Systems will soon become obsolete.

Myth versus reality

To begin breaking down this myth, let’s consider how IBM Power Systems stands apart from x86.

Designed for enterprise workloads. x86 is designed to accommodate multiple markets and design points, from smartphones to laptops, PCs and servers. Power Systems, on the other hand, is designed for high-performance, enterprise workloads like data analytics, artificial intelligence and cloud-native apps and microservices — workloads that are driving innovation and digital transformation in organizations today.

Targeting new market segments. Over the years, x86 vendors shipped a lot of systems into commodity markets, but there have always been market segments it couldn’t get because of the limitations of its general-purpose architecture.

Today, a growing number of market segments where just a few years ago x86 was the only solution available, are facing strong competition from Power Systems. Consider the number of clients who bought x86-based solutions for SAP HANA, Nutanix and open source databases like MongoDB, EDB PostgreSQL and Redis, to name a few. They didn’t buy x86 solutions because they were the best choice; they bought them because they were the only choice. SAP HANA is an excellent example. 2,500-plus clients now run this application on Power Systems instead of x86.

Graphic represents the author’s perspective based on market intel

These applications, plus the rising demand for data analytics, HPC infrastructure and cognitive solutions like AI, machine learning and deep learning, may be the most cogent examples of market segments x86 is struggling to keep.

On the forefront of high-performance computing. In addition, two of the world’s most powerful supercomputers are running IBM POWER9: the US Department of Energy’s Summit and Sierra at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Growing revenue. Far from being pushed out of the market, IBM Power Systems has enjoyed five consecutive quarters of growth driven by client adoption of the latest generation of Power processors, IBM POWER9.

IBM Power Systems continues to grow

There are a number of other reasons for Power Systems’ critical role in the processor market continuing into the future.

Next-gen applications. The next generation of applications that are driving innovation are going to require more than just a general-purpose processor. AI, machine learning and cloud-native applications are using GPUs, ASICs and FPGAs to deliver the power required for next-generation AI and analytics. Power Systems is leading the way, partnering with companies like NVIDIA and Mellanox to build state-of-the-art supercomputers.

Industry collaboration. There are now over 250 companies that are part of the OpenPOWER Foundation, including Google, Nvidia, Mellanox, SUSE, Micron and Inspur. These are serious companies building serious solutions, and they see Power as a technology worthy of a long-term investment that will provide innovation, technology and products to benefit the entire industry.

The need for choice. Everyone benefits from choice. A diversity of options drives innovation and helps companies build competitive solutions. One need look no further than SAP HANA to see what a difference having a choice has made to that market. The same can be said for companies like Nutanix, and innovative open source data and AI-centric projects like MongoDB and TensorFlow.

Innovation for the future

A lot has been written about the end of Moore’s Law, which describes the doubling of processor performance every 24 months. Given the laws of physics and miniaturization of processor technology for 50-plus years, the microprocessor industry cannot continue to make silicon chips run faster by merely cramming more transistors onto a chip.

We need a technology innovation breakthrough.

As IBM has done throughout its 100-plus year history, it is innovating a research-driven technology leadership breakthrough with IBM Q quantum computing that promises to be an exciting option for the future of computing. But for the foreseeable future there are only three viable options available to build an IT infrastructure: Intel or AMD x86, IBM Power Systems and IBM System Z.

“Are x86-based systems distinctly better at ingesting and processing data than competing systems? IDC believes the short answer is: they’re not.”

This quote from an IDC report is a question many companies need to ask themselves as they rethink their headlong rush to put all workloads on x86 commodity infrastructure platforms.

Each new generation of Power Systems has brought with it improved performance, reliability, scalability and security. And POWER10 will continue in that tradition and provide an excellent and much-needed choice in the market to x86 platforms. The Power Systems roadmap through 2020 was shared back in 2016 at the OpenPOWER Summit, so rest assured that IBM will continue to invest in the Power architecture for years to come.

Questions about migrating to Power?

IBM Systems Lab Services has a team of experienced consultants ready to help you get the most out of IBM Power Systems. Reach out to us today if you have questions, and stay tuned for the next post in this series.