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Come on out, Power6+, you win

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Comment Where on earth is IBM's Power6+ kicker to the dual-core Power6 processors that were first announced in July 2007? Moore's Law says it should be here right about now.

When it comes to the Power6+ processor, IBM has been as quiet as a child playing hide and seek that wants to win the game so badly that she ends up falling asleep in the closet and can't hear that everyone has given up. It's a great way to win, but it also has the effect of scaring the living daylights out of the adults.

The Power6+ chip is, of course, the presumed kicker to the dual-core Power6 chip that IBM launched in the summer of 2007 in high-end boxes and rolled out across the unified Power Systems line this time last year. I have been watching Big Blue for a long time now, and the company has stopped bragging about technology way ahead of time - as it did with the Power4 processors at the turn of the millennium some 18 months ahead of the launch of those dual-core processors - and spends most of its time bragging about market share stats in the Unix space. When people know a new machine is coming, they stop buying.

Moreover, the Power6 chips, which were originally scheduled for 2006 with kickers in 2007, didn't make it to the field until July 2007 and were not across the product line until April 2008. The only thing worse than an impending product announcement in terms of its effect on sales is a delayed product that extends the impendingness of a product announcement for six months or a year. So, IBM has decided to simply not talk about the future, just in case something goes wrong - unless you want to discuss services or some business far removed from servers, like smart water meters.

Whatever Power6+ is or isn't remains unclear, as does its launch schedule. I am beginning to think the Power6+ is some figment of my imagination, or a hallucination, particularly with the eight-core, hybrid architecture Power7 chip due early next year. But it does exist. Here's a 2005 roadmap that shows it:

IBM Power Roadmap Circa 2005

IBM's Power roadmap, circa early 2005 (Click to enlarge)

IBM went off the road a little bit on that roadmap from 2005, and in late 2006, this is the Power Systems roadmap the company was showing customers. As far as I know, this is still accurate:

IBM Power Roadmap Circa 2006

IBM's Power roadmap, circa late 2006 (Click to enlarge)

Big Blue needs to do something to allow the Power Systems line to better compete against Intel's quad-core "Nehalem EP" Xeon 5500 processors, which are used in two-socket X64 servers. Now would be a good time for Power6+ to come out, with Intel's Nehalem cards on the table, Advanced Micro Devices now expecting to put its six-core "Istanbul" Opteron chips in the field in June (instead of later this year), Intel having delayed the quad-core "Tukwila" Itaniums until June or July with system shipments probably later than that, and Sun Microsystems looking weaker every day for reasons that only make sense to Wall Streeters who paid too much for Sun stock a few years back. (Sun is a good company with some great technology, and one that simply has too many employees.)

IBM likes to do summer and spring, sometimes fall, Power server announcements, but the poor global economy and the merger of the System p and System i product lines have pretty much killed anything resembling tradition in midrange server launches. I'll need more data if I want to establish a new pattern.

Just because IBM is being cagey about Power6+ doesn't mean things are not out there on the Web that point to it. First and foremost, since about 2005, the last page of an awful lot of IBM documents - the place where IBM covers all of its zillions of trademarks - has had Power6+ as a trademark. So IBM has been clearly been planning on launching something by that name. And soon, we'll be seeing Power7 trademarked, too.

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