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IBM BladeCenter Close Up

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Sep 25, 2008


Drew Robb
The problem with IBM is that it has so darn many servers. A couple of weeks back I tried to cover them all in a Server Snapshot. It's a bit like trying to review all the restaurants of Los Angeles in 500 words. You don't get much beyond broad generalities. So let's give a little more time this week to IBM BladeCenter.

Hard-Core Hardware: IBM has sharpened its BladeCenter offerings in recent months. Drew Robb looks at whether these new blades will catapult Big Blue to the top spot.

Per IDC, IBM holds the number two position with 24.8 percent share of the blade market, just behind HP. Let's take a look at what IBM has on offer.

IBM now offers a dozen blades: three Intel (HS designation), four AMD (LS), three POWER (JS) and two Cell BE (QS). (For the details of all these blades see the grid in the Snapshot. The HS12, JS12 and the QS22 were all released in the past six months.

The JS12 is a single-socket Power-based blade server. It can run AIX, Linux and IBM i (i5/OS).

"Some of the retail applications that IBM deploys run on AIX (while others run on Linux or Windows), so having a Power blade lets IBM integrate applications running on disparate architectures and operating systems in a single chassis, an approach the company calls Store in a Box'," said Gordon Haff of Illuminata.

In effect, with the Power6 generation, IBM has achieved a better alignment of its Power Architecture blades with its rack and frame-oriented products. The predecessor, the JS21, was built around the PowerPC processor. Now the quad-core BladeCenter JS22 Express and the new dual-core BladeCenter JS12 Express use the same POWER6 processor as the rest of IBM servers.

Haff sees this as IBM moving down market. This strategy is probably aimed at eating up a bigger slice of the pie, as HP outguns IBM in sheer volume at the lower end of the market.

HS12

IBM calls the HS12 Express the industry's first single-socket Intel processor-based blade server. As a statement of intent that IBM means business at the low end, the company has priced it to be the most inexpensive blade on the market.

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"The HS12 Express offers clients availability, redundancy, scalability and energy management in a simple, easy-to-use package designed to eliminate the need for clients to pay for extra processing power they don't use," said Tim Dougherty, manager of IBM BladeCenter strategy.

QS22

The IBM BladeCenter QS22 is the muscle of the new announcements. It is based on a new processor that is compliant with the Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.) architecture — known as the IBM PowerXCell 8i.

Dougherty said it provides more than five times the performance of its predecessor. Not surprisingly, therefore, it is aimed at high-performance blade solutions needed for heavy workloads.

"The QS22 can process the most challenging arithmetic operations," said Dougherty. "Coupled with additions like 16 times more memory (up to 32GB) than its predecessors, the QS22 can handle workloads that previously required dozens of servers."

Notably, of the world's most energy efficient supercomputers, QS22 powers the top 3.

HP Threat

Will IBM catch up with HP due to these new products? Probably, to some degree. They now have the same number of blades, although HP has far more at the low end and extends quite high up the totem pole. But HP won't sit around idly. Expect it to come out with perhaps an even lower priced single-socket model. On the other end of the scale, IBM may be looking on this as a trial balloon. If it gains significant market share from its new low-end gear, it will surely add more low-end blades.

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