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Hardware Today: IBM Server Snapshot

By Carl Weinschenk (Send Email)
Posted Oct 14, 2003


Editor's Note: This is the first of several vendor profiles we will be running in Hardware Today. Each profiles will provide a basic overview of each company's server products. This week's column focuses on IBM's four server lines.

Unsure of the difference between iSeries and zSeries? Don't know where to begin the search for the best server for your organization? In our first server vendor profile, we explain the ins and outs of IBM's four server lines and include a detailed chart.

The direction of IBM's server line changed abruptly in October 2000, Mark Shearer, vice president, IBM Systems Group told ServerWatch in a recent interview. At that point, the company took a good hard look at the market and its products and made three decisions.

IBM opted to leverage the technology it had in-house -- particularly in mainframes -- across its entire server business. It decided it would shed layers of its proprietary skin and employ open standards as well as push the servers into new areas, such as on-demand and autonomic computing.

So far, the redirection has worked. "What they are doing differently now than five or 10 years ago is that they have a cohesive strategy, they are executing on that strategy and delivering on the promises," says Ed Broderick, a principal analyst for the Robert Frances Group. The servers have been renamed, "refreshed and repopulated" with new models.

IBM's eServer group currently consists of four product lines -- the iSeries, pSeries, xSeries, and zSeries. (These lines roughly correlate with the former AS/400, RS/6000, Netfinity, and System/390, respectively.)

Here, is a brief rundown of how the four groups are positioned. A chart detailing the specifications of each product line follows at the end of this article.

pSeries: The pSeries runs AIX -- IBM's version of Unix -- and Linux. It is a broad line, extending from the 32-processor p690 through midrange to entry-level units. "The pSeries is the cornerstone of our Unix product line," Shearer says.

The pSeries is based on IBM's Power processor. "We are one of the few Unix vendors in the world still investing heavily in RISC-based processors for Unix. By doing so, we have the broadest Unix product line, from very small 1-Way or 2-Way systems up to 32-Way mainframe-class systems," Shearer says. "We are rather unique in the scalability of our Unix product line."

The dynamic shaping the pSeries' market segment is a growing need for stable and trustworthy operation. "Customers are definitely asking for enterprise-class reliability and performance. [These servers] are often in the middle of Internet systems. They have to be up, recover automatically, and have to be enterprise class," Shearer says.

xSeries: This is Big Blue's Intel-based server segment. While Shearer declined to comment on how much of IBM's total server output is attributable to xSeries servers, he notes that the series is vital because it includes blade servers, where much of the excitement is in servers today.

IBM's efforts in this space are focused on taking blades from the edge of the network -- where they initially sat -- and moving them into the data center by making members of the xSeries more robust. The xSeries line was introduced with Intel's Xeon processor, not the less-powerful Pentium 3, and integrated Fibre Channel and Layer 4 to Layer 7 switching capabilities. The blades were announced in December 2002. "We really created more of an enterprise-class value proposition," Shearer says.

iSeries: This series, Shearer says, is designed for midmarket clients -- or a department of an enterprise -- where systems ease of management and reliability are at a premium.

An iSeries server is typically in the middle of the action. "Right now, the big trend among the iSeries customer base is to consolidate or integrate many of the smaller servers onto a fewer number of members of the iSeries family," Shearer says. "For example, some of our clients might have their main databases on an iSeries, and might have a separate Windows or Intel server for the Web front end, and a file and print server." This scenario, Shearer says, would rely on server partitioning. True to the announcements of three years ago, IBM is adopting partitioning capabilities from its mainframe line across the board.

"The pSeries and iSeries have the ability to dynamically partition the resources, just like an IBM mainframe," he says. "In future iSeries products we are going to integrate AIX, OS400, and Linux on a single platform. That's more virtualization."

zSeries: This is IBM's bread and butter, the mainframe. Shearer says that this class of machine is aimed at large and midsize enterprises with no tolerance for downtime. This includes large banks, brokerage houses, telecommunications service providers, and enterprises with huge, high-volume databases running complex operations. "There can't be mistakes, and there is no room for systems being down," he says.

In August 2003, IBM announced the "Mainframe Charter," a recommitment to the mainframe in the form of new price list and changes to the licensing structure. Shearer says IBM's continued support of mainframes pays off in two ways. The machines themselves are popular, and the research and development driving the category trickles down to other servers the company offers.

Shearer offers multichip modules as an example of the technology initially developed for the mainframe and now used in other server lines. Multichip modules enable a large amount of circuitry to be squeezed into a small space without sacrificing reliability.

IBM is well-served by its servers. "They have stemmed what two or three years ago were hemorrhaging losses and are now very competitive with Hewlett-Packard," says Broderick.

IBM's eServer Product Lines

 
Description Midrange servers Unix servers ranging from entry to high-end Intel-based servers1 Mainframe-class servers
Target Deployment SMBs and enterprise departments Data centers of all sizes Data centers of all sizes Large and midsize enterprises running mission-critical apps with no tolerance for downtime
Processor Type Power 4 Entry Servers: 32-bit 604e, 64-bit Power3-II, 64-bit Power4+;
Midrange Servers: 64-bit Power4 and 64-bit Power4+;
High-End: 64-bit Power4 and 64-bit Power4+
Intel, ranging from Pentium 4 to Itanium 2 depending on the server IBM multichip module (MCM) -- dense module containing 16 chips
Processor Range2 Small to Medium Enterprises: 1-Way and 2-Way;
Medium to Large Enterprises:3/6-Way to 24/32-Way
Entry Servers: 1-Way to 4-Way;
Midrange Servers: 2-Way to 16-Way;
High-End Servers: 8-Way to 32-Way
Rack-Optimized: 1-Way to 4-Way;
Universal: 1-Way to 4-Way;
High-Performance Scalable: 4-Way to 16-Way
N/A
Operating Systems OS/400 V5R2 AIX, Linux Wintel, AIX, Linux, MVS, and pretty much any Intel-compatible OS z/OS, z/OS.e, OS/390, SuSE Linux, z/VM, TPF, VSE/ESA
Servers Small to Medium Enterprises: iSeries 800, iSeries 810;
Medium to Large Enterprises: iSeries 825, iSeries 870, iSeries 890
Entry Servers: pSeries 615 Model 6C3, pSeries 630 Model 6C4, pSeries 615 Model 6E3, pSeries 630 Model 6E4, pSeries 610 Model 6C1, pSeries 640 Model B80, pSeries 610 Model 6E1, RS/6000 43P Model 150, RS/6000 44P Model 170;
Midrange: pSeries 650, pSeries 655, pSeries 670;
High-End: pSeries 6903
Rack-Optimized: xSeries 305, xSeries 335, xSeries 343, xSeries 345, xSeries 360, xSeries 382;
Universal: xSeries 205, xSeries 225, xSeries 235, xSeries 255;
High-Performance Scalable: xSeries 440, xSeries 445, xSeries 450
z9903, z900, z800, zSeries for Linux, S/390 (G5/G6, Multiprise)
Price Range4 Small to Medium Enterprises: $24,281 to 349,515;
Medium to Large Enterprises: $574,224 to more than $2 million
Entry Servers: $5,095 to $15,820;
Midrange Servers: $26,895 and up (Contact IBM directly for pricing details)
High-End: Contact IBM directly
Rack-Optimized: $1,339 to $9,999;
Universal: $499 to $5,629;
High-Performance Scalable: Contact IBM directly
Contact IBM directly
1The xSeries line also includes the BladeCenter product family, a variety of storage products and telecommunications servers, and the IBM Cluster 1350
2 IBM also offers the eServer 325, an AMD-processor-based server that does not fall into any of the four eServer lines
3 Flagship system
4 Based on IBM's posted prices

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