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Microsoft challenges IBM to Websphere duel

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Step outside?

That sounds like a pretty good deal, and IBM would be wise to step outside into the sun with its guns loaded. Because Leake understands the criticism and will be perfectly happy, I presume, to redo some tests using like-for-like hardware comparisons, perhaps pitting the new Power6+ versions of the Power 550 or Power 560 against the ProLiant DL380 using Intel's "Nehalem" Xeon 5500 processors or HP blades using these chips against the new JS23 blades. (Both of these IBM machines were announced last week.) Getting the core counts and thread counts as close as possible for the hardware should be the goal for any test. When in doubt, make the core counts the same.

It seems moot to go over the numbers in Microsoft's test, but as you might expect, on the StockTrader C# variant of the Trade application, those four HP blades were able to process 12,576 transactions per second (TPS) running atop .NET instead of WebSphere. Shifting the middleware to WebSphere and switching back to the Java version of the code dropped the throughput down to 11,004 TPS. (Leake did not offer any explanations as to why, we are to simply take this as it is).

The HP blade hardware and base systems software supporting the Trade and StockTrader applications cost $50,161, but adding WebSphere boosted the price on the Windows-based blades by another $37,000 using IBM's Processor Value Unit pricing scheme. So, the all-Windows stack looks very good on the price/performance scale.

By comparison, the Power 570 server that Microsoft used in the Trade-on-WebSphere 7 test - and which I contend is definitely memory constrained and possibly underpowered compared to that HP iron with only 8 cores with threads compared to 16 cores with no threads (SMT just isn't the same as having a real core) - cost $215,728 and another $44,400 for WebSphere 7 priced on that PVU pricing scheme. And on the Trade Java-based test, this machine could handle only 8,016 TPS. The Windows-x64 setup obviously stomps it. But again, so what?

Assuming Trade scales more or less with IBM's rPerf (Relative Performance) internal benchmark test, an eight-core Power 550 server using the new 5 GHz Power6+ chips would deliver about 15 per cent more oomph - or about 9,218 TPS on the Trade test. And a 16-core Power 560 running 3.6 GHz Power6+ chips would yield about 47 per cent more oomph - or about 11,757 TPS. That's right smack dab between the two Windows numbers Microsoft is cheering about.

That IBM Power 550 is more expensive than the blades. It costs $118,284 at list price with only 16 GB of memory, and boosting it up to 128 GB of memory would run $512 per MB, which is half what IBM charges on the Power 570, or $57,344. That's still $175,620, and then you have to add WebSphere on top. The 16-core Power 560 with 128 GB of memory is about the same price at $178,679, but as I said above, the Power 560 does nearly 50 per cent more work on applications that like threads. Such as WebSphere and Java.

A JS23 blade using the new 4.2 GHz Power6+ processors, by the way, has about half the performance of the Power 570 that HP tested, and four of these blades would yield performance that is higher than that offered by the HP blades Microsoft tested, probably on the order of 16,000 TPS on the test. And four blades with 32 GB each plus a BladeCenter H chassis and AIX on the blades runs to $98,229 at list price. Even after the HP blades were fully populated with Xeon processors, it might be a pretty tight race, blade for blade, on the Trade test. Until the Nehalem EP blades are tossed into the mix, of course,

Maybe what can be honestly said is that IBM charges twice as much for Power-AIX iron as it and other vendors do for x64 iron (because of the scalability in the Power platform) and IBM charges for WebSphere while Microsoft is giving away its Windows middleware to extend its growing monopoly in the server space. Neither is a surprise. It has been that way for a decade. ®

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