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Server maker IBM has quietly expanded its so-called Power Rewards marketing program, which offers a serving-purchase point system akin to airline frequent flier mile deals. In the past, customers got points if they swapped out RISC server iron in favor of Big Blue's own Power Systems, and now, companies using non-IBM x64 iron can trade up to Power Systems and get points, which can be traded in for software and services.

The Power Rewards program came out concurrent with the launch of the Power6-based Power Systems servers back in April 2008. That was when IBM formally and finally converged its System p AIX and Linux boxes with the System i proprietary midrange line, offering AIX, Linux, and i (formerly known as OS/400 and i5/OS) on a single hardware platform. And IBM wanted to use the marketing program to chase rival RISC/Unix boxes.

But since February 10, the company has been offering trade-in points to customers who want to move from x86 and x64 servers made by Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sun Microsystems, and whitebox vendors.

The original Power Rewards program gave customers swapping out Itanium, Sparc (of various makes), and MIPS processors a certain number of points per processor core that they were swapping out as part of a move to an IBM Power Systems machine. Because IBM was hot to trot to chase the installed base of PA-RISC running HP-UX - who were facing a recompile as they move to Hewlett-Packard's Itanium-based Integrity servers - IBM gave customers with PA-RISC servers 4,000 points per core as they traded to Power.

Sparc, Itanium, Alpha, and MIPS machines were all given 1,000 points per core as a trade-in, which was kind of stingy. Anyway, IBM offered customers a list of 35 pieces of software or services that they could acquire using points; prices for these wares range between 1,000 to 95,000 points. The main one Unix rival shops would care about is a 40-hour block of migration services, which eats up 15,000 points.

Heaven only knows what these services are really worth, which you can see in detail here, but the implication is that a point is worth a dollar. The total number of points a customer can turn in cannot exceed more than half the price of the system they acquire as they move off the RISC platform to the IBM iron. So, if you spend $1.5m on a big Power 595 machine, you can only acquire 750,000 points even if you may be turning in enough PA-RISC or Sparc cores to earn more Power Rewards points than that.

In the first pass on the Power Rewards deal, you had to turn in a lot of Sun iron to rack up points. Which was odd, considering that Sun had already delayed its "Rock" UltraSparc-RK chips and "Supernova" servers two months before the Power Systems and the related rewards program came out. Last November, however, IBM finally tweaked the deal to give customers ditching Sparc iron 4,000 points per core. Itanium, Alpha, and MIPS platforms are still being given only 1,000 points per processor core.

Starting last week, IBM is offering 500 points per core for x86 and x64 servers made by its rivals. According to Scott Handy, vice president of marketing and strategy for IBM's Power Systems division, the expansion of Power Rewards into the x86 and x64 area is not a matter of the Unix conversion business running out of gas so much as it is IBM trying to get a third bucket of money to match the two it has from HP and Sun Unix conversions.

"The cost of managing server sprawl is higher than the total cost of acquisition benefits customers got in the first place with their x86 servers," Handy contends. And you can tell that he is not in charge of an x64 server lineup at Big Blue. "VMware has kind of helped because they have made it OK to do x86 server consolidation. Now, my sales guys can make a case for Power."

Officially, the Power Rewards consolidation program cannot be used by customers who have IBM's System x and BladeCenter x64-based servers, even if they want to consolidate workloads onto Power iron. But trust me, if a customer wants to do that, I am pretty certain that the reseller or IBM itself can make such a deal stick.

There is one interesting exception where the Power Rewards deal is being applied to IBM x64 iron. If you're a customer consolidating OS/400 and i5/OS workloads onto BladeCenter dual-core JS12 or quad-core JS22 Power6 blade servers in the BladeCenter S small business chassis, you can get 500 points per x86 or x64 processor core for the Intel or AMD iron you swap out. And you can consolidate your workloads onto x64-based blades in the BladeCenter chassis. You don't have to move workloads to the Power blades. IBM is doing this because it has to.

Depending on who you ask at IBM, somewhere between 85 and 90 per cent of OS/400, i5/OS, and i shops have Windows servers doing all kinds of jobs, and the last thing in the world these companies want to do is move those workloads to Linux partitions using Linux applications that are analogous to the Windows applications they have. They want to run their i and Windows workloads on blades, perhaps. But they are not even remotely interested in changing. They have had the ability to run Linux partitions on their iSeries or System i boxes for eight years, and very few customers have switched from Windows to Linux for infrastructure workloads, despite the benefits of consolidation. ®

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