Archive for the 'amd' Category

Unix migrations and game changers

More product talk, much closer to home for me are this weeks new Dell PowerEdge servers including the PowerEdge R910 which was specifically designed and configured for a market segment I’m fully aware of, RISC Server migration.

It’s well worth taking a look at this youtube video from the R910 h/w design team, for me this is something that I just think people don’t realise, just how much clever design goes into the Dell PowerEdge servers. I think this, better than anything else I’ve seen, embodies the difference between peoples perception of what Dell Server engineering does, and what we actually do. I can honestly say that even back to my IBM mainframe days, I’ve never seen a better designed, more easily accessible, configurable and thought out server.

In terms of configuration the R910 is specifically aimed at those who are rethinking proprietary UNIX deployments either on SUN SPARC or POWER AIX. Based on industry standards and the x86 architecture, the R910 is an ideal platform for RISC/UNIX migrations, large database deployments and server virtualization implementations. It’s a 4U rack server is available with a high-performance four-socket Intel Nehalem-EX processor, up to 64 DIMM slots for memory, redundant power supplies and a failsafe embedded hypervisor resulting in the performance, reliability and memory scalability needed to run mission critical applications. It also includes an option to have 10Gb ethernet right on the motherboard.

There are 3-other new servers this week, including the M910 Blade server, the R810 virtualization and consolidation server and the R815 virtualization, high-performance computing, email messaging, and database workloads server.

The PowerEdge R815 deserves it’s own “shout-out”, it comes with the same level of detail in h/w design as the R910, but is powered by the brand new 12-core AMD Opteron 6100 processors and has up to 32 DIMMs with up to 48 processor cores in a four-socket, 2U server.  As my friend and former IBM colleague, Nigel Dessau, now Chief Marketing Officer at AMD put it, the new AMD processors are “game changers

All this weeks new servers include the iDrac embedded management that our team works on, as well as the  Dell Lifecycle Controller. Lifecycle Controller provides IT administrators with a single console view of their entire IT infrastructure while performing a complete set of provisioning functions including system deployment, updates, hardware configuration and diagnostics.

For customer who are interested in migrating from proprietary UNIX environments we are also now offering a set of migration services to an open server platform and an open OS.

Visible personal branding and the big company

I’m keeping busy at Dell, currently working on designs for both our 12g and 13g servers. My current motto is less is more, I’m trying to see what I can cut out to simplify things, as well as what can be automated. In my blog catch-up this morning I came across this excellent post, The psychology of social media: Can a visible brand ruin your life?

No, it is not another warning about posting compromising pictures on facebook, or blogging about doing outside work while telling your boss you are off sick. It talks about some of the issues and values of creating your own “brand” through social media tools. Now, back when Nigel Dessau and I worked together at IBM UK in the mid-1990’s, Nigel was quick off the mark creating content for, and getting involved with IBM UK and IBM Europes first web sites. I had the chance to work with him on some of the content and low and behold, the first Cathcarts Corner was published almost 13-years ago. Over the years, it moved, grew and contracted, and now is just this blog.

One thing I learned though was indeed the value of the perosnal brand. When reading Jennifer Leggios’ blog posting a few things rang true. One, it is worth thinking through before you launch into “just blogging”. It’s not sufficient to work out what you want to talk about and how you say it, but who your audience are, how you will reach them, your style and much more. Secondly, at many IBM Acadamey of Technology annual meetings, and often at other events, we were told by the business executives how IBM wanted the company to be more recognised for its innovation, for its technical leadership, and yes, they promised action. However despite the multi-million dollar marketing campaigns, there are and have never been almost any household names of technical leaders at IBM, or for that matter any major publically qouted company like Oracle, HP in the tech business, but also in other traditional NYSE style big companies GE, General Motors etc. Have there ?

In the second section of her blog post, entitled Workplace Impact, Jennifer talks how the corporation handles the rising, and visible brand that is a key spokesperson. I also worked with one of the tech industries most visible brands, Simon Phipps of Sun, now Oracle. It will be interesting to see where his “brand” goes once things get sorted out at Oracle. While Simon and I worked together at IBM, I was the Linux/Open Source guy, Simon was the Java guy, but he has done a much better job of communicating, and putting the case for open source than I ever could, and in the process created a brand through his blog, twitter and other contributions. I can’t see he’d have had the same success at IBM.

The point that Jennifer makes is it’s how the company reacts that makes the difference. My IBM UK managers where always very supportive of my personal brand, they definately empowered me. However, at a corporate level, unlike Simons’ experience at Sun, it’s my view that most companies practise what Jennifer describes as “talking out both sides of their mouth”. That is they realise that an engineer or technician that creates a personal brand is both getting distracted from their “day” job through their activities, and secondly, is a risk to the company if their exposure gets them unwanted attraction from competitors, start-ups and analyst companies who might offer them a better deal in order to capture the value from their brand.

I’d never thought about it that way, but it certainly puts into perspective the legions of corporate Vice Presidents who march through the PR sausage machine and come out the other other side talking tech, only to disappear 18-months later when they move on to their next assignment and are replaced by the next [insert name here] VP. The only really famous technical person I can recall from IBM, from a public perspective is Gene Amdahl, and thats more legend than fact. Sure, I’ve known many others, but none outside their narrow specialist area and through personal contact rather than through their notoriety, promotion or brand. Can you name anyone ?

Jennifers article is a long, but worthwhile read on the subject of personal brands, and certianly made me reconsider some of my long held views.

Dell PowerEdge R905 Virtulization Server

In between meetings etc. I’m trying to find and keep up with some of the best Dell information sources.

Over on his Dell Community Blog, Matt M has put together a good blog entry with links and a video on the recent InfoWorld 2009 Technology award for the Dell PowerEdge R905 as the “Best Virtualization Server”.

I called this blog entry out as a follow-up to my prior posting about in-bound and out-bound management, and the challenges of using Intels AMT. The PowerEdge R905 was specifically designed around the AMD Virtaulization platform, which isn’t AMT compatible, but does have AMD-Virtualization or AMD-V which is exploited to the max in the R905.

IT T&C’S

I’ve been able to spend an interesting few weeks examining both how Dell goes about procuring technology and building it’s systems, especially within the Enterprise Product Group and to some degree storage.

Some good things, some bad things, some just are what they are, out of time to market and business necessity. One of the early things I think I want to drive is an effort to create a stanard set of IT Management T&C’s. Think about it, any major company wouldn’t deal with another major company without understanding and agreeing T&C’s for things like payments, legal, disclosure, IP and so on.

While small companies find the level of detail in these T&C’s an unfair burden, they do help in so much as they establish a baseline for how the company acts by default. There are always special cases.

I’m thinking that it is increasingly important from an in-band and out-of-band management perspective that we have the same. If you want to bid for business from Dell to build a device, server, storage, etc. then you ought to be able to find out what our baseline operational requirements are. In mostly cases these ought to be standalone from a given server build, from the baseboard design for the next server, the management console for storage etc.

So thats what I think I’m going to tackle first, a framework of API’s, Protocols, Transports etc. that we can support. I’ll classify each of the major initiatives we have underway, either they are tactically important and we’ll support for the foreseable future, they are depricated and we’ll stop using/supporting them at a given point, at which time they’ll be superceeded or replaced by xx or they are no longer supported or being developed and no new funding or projects will be undertaken using them.

Declaring how we’ll support the various technology platforms will be good for our customers. They’ll have a clear roadmap and be able to see where we are on for example standards implementations; Hopefully it will also reduce the number of protocols etc. in use and standardise around a smaller subset. It will also be good for the OEM’S and Partners we work with. they’ll know what we are going to ask for in RFQ’s, and will be able to influence our thinking ahead of time, and will be able to skill and tool-up before we ask them to bid/build for us. Finally, it will be good for Dell, we’ll be able to build libraries of re-useable assets to handle the specific API’s, protocols, transports etc. and re-use these as much as possible across different products. Also, it will put us in a better position with respect to testing and tooling.

Of course, as far as possible the T&C’s as it were, will be industry standard(s). Some of these will have to be, de facto, they are what’s being built and used today. One of the things I’ll be giving some serious consideration to will be Intel’s Active Management Technology or AMT. While it appears to address a number of the key areas you’d want to tackle, but depending on it would put us in a difficult position with respect to AMD processors, which don’t have the same function, implementedthe same way.

Interesting times, am definately enjoying the new job. Thanks again for all the best-wishes.

What’s up with industry standard servers? – The IBM View

I finally had time to read through the IBM 4Q ’08 results yesterday evening, it is good to see that Power Systems saw a revenue growth for the 10th straight quarter,  and that the virtualization  and high utilization rates are driving sales of both mainframe and Power servers.

I was somewhat surprised though to see the significant decline(32%) in x86 servers sales, System x in IBM nomenclature, put down to the strong demand “virtualizing and consolidating workloads into more efficient platforms such as POWER and mainframe”.

I certainly didn’t see any significant spike in interest in Lx86 in the latter part of my time with IBM and as far as I know, IBM still doesn’t have a reference customer for it many references for it, despite a lot of good technical work going into it. The focus from sales just wasn’t there. So that means customers were porting, rewriting or buying new applications, not something that would usually show up in quarterly sales swings, more as long term trends.

Seems to me the more likely reason behind IBM’s decline in x86 was simply as Bob Moffat[IBM Senior Vice President and Group Executive, Systems & Technology Group] put it in his December ’08 interview with CRN’s ChannelWeb when referring to claims by HP’s Mark Hurd “The stuff that Mr. Hurd said was going away kicked his ass: Z Series [mainframe hardware] outgrew anything that he sells. [IBM] Power [servers] outgrew anything that he sells. So he didn’t gain share despite the fact that we screwed up execution in [x86 Intel-based server] X Series.”

Moffat is quoted as saying IBM screwed up x86 execution multiple times, so one assumes at least Moffat thinks it’s true. And yes, as I said on twitter yesterday was a brutal day in the tech industry, and certainly with the Intel and Microsoft layoffs, the poor AMD results, and the IBM screw-up in sales and Sun starting previously announced layoffs, as the IBM results say industry standard hardware is susceptible to the economic downtown. I’d disagree with the IBM results statement though in that industry standard hardware is “clearly more susceptible”.

My thoughts and best wishes go out to all those who found out yesterday that their jobs were riffed, surplused or rebalanced, many of those, including 10-people I know personally, did not work in the x86 or as IBM would have it, “industry standard” hardware business.

The Windows Legacy

My good friend and fellow Brit’ Nigel Dessau posted his thoughts, and to some degree, frustrations with Windows Vista and potentially Windows 7 today on his personal blog, here.

The problem is of course they are stuck in their own legacy. If I were Microsoft,  I’d declare Windows 8 would only support Windows 7 and earlier apps and drivers in a virtual machine.

They’d declare a bunch of their more low level interfaces deprecated with Windows 7 and won’t be accessible in Windows 8 except in a Windows 7 VM.

Then they’d make their Windows virtual machine technology abstract all physical devices, so that Windows could handle them how they thought best, and wouldn’t let applications talk to devices directly, only via the abstraction. They would have generic storage, generic network, and generic graphics interfaces that applications could write to and Microsoft would deal with everything else.

This would initially limit the number of devices that would be supported, but thats really status quo anyway. They would declare how devices that want to play in the Windows space would behave, declare the specs, and Microsoft would own the testing and to a degree validation of almost all drivers or they could farm this out to a seperate organization who would independently certify the device, not write the code. Once they stabilised the generic interfaces though, the whole Windows system itself would become more stable.

This would be a big step for Microsoft. When you look at the Windows ecosystem, there are hundreds of thousands of Windows applications and utilities. Way too many of them though are to deal with the inadeqaucies of Windows itself, or missing function. Cut out the ability to write these sort of applications and their will be at least an infrastructure developer backlash. It might even provoke more antitrust claims. While I know nothing about the iPhone, this would likely put Windows 8 in the same position with respect to developers.

For all I know, this could be what they have in mind, it’s and area I need to get up to speed on with them, and obviously the processor roadmaps for AMD and Intel, as well as understanding where Linux is headed.

AMD Appoints Nigel Dessau as Chief Marketing Officer

Well there you go, I mention Nigel in a blog entry on Amazon and Clouds, and a couple of days later Nigel is named as new CMO for AMD. Nice one Nigel, look forward to seeing you here in Austin!

 Business Wire Coverage


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society (bsc.org) I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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