Big Blue Boasts 'Building Block' Server

By Clint Boulton (Send Email)
Posted Mar 13, 2002


IBM Corp. pushed forward with its latest, eServer Wednesday when it unwrapped the x440, an Intel chip-based machine that offers a "pay-as-you-need-the-power" price point in the hopes of swaying more customers to the Blue side.

The x440 relies on what Armonk, N.Y.'s IBM calls a "building-block"-style called XPandonDemand, which allows customers to pay for computing power incrementally as they need it, beginning with 4 processors and expanding up to 16 processors and 64 GB of memory. IBM noted that competing machines, such as those from Compaq Computer Corp., offer systems that are either only half as large and cannot be expanded, or are freighted with hefty costs. IBM rolls out an electronic business server to accompany the launch of Intel's new Xeon line.

The company's product, while new, is not without history, as the eServer x440 with Enterprise X-Architecture technology is the result of a three-year development effort to improve the facility of electronic business. With flexibility the key word here, the x440 is designed to function as a single server capable of running a large database or as many small "virtual servers" for consolidating, for example, multiple e-mail servers.

Jim Gargan, vice president of marketing for the xSeries unit of IBM's eServer Group, called the product release a defining moment, since the Intel server market was introduced because the x440 provides "mainframe-inspired capabilities" that allow Intel to move into data centers.

"What we've done in the past three years, is put architecture taken from enterprise-class mainframe and brought them into the Intel market," Gargan told InternetNews.com.

To be sure, IBM is touting the modular approach as a breakaway from refrigerator-sized machines that take up too much space. Rather, IBM has taken the power of those mainframes, and added active memory to keep servers running through failures, as well as remote input/output (I/O), which allows for a dozen adapter slots to be added outside of the server.

This modular technology, also known as non-uniform memory architecture (NUMA), is hardly new, according to Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice, who cited Sequent as an early NUMA proprietor. However, IBM absorbed Sequent a few years ago and has molded its technology into its current Enterprise X-Architecture. But where IBM is really generating buzz among server experts, are in what Eunice called "commodity price points," which he said could prove more attractive to e-business owners than similar, albeit less flexible, offerings from Compaq and Unisys in the Intel server market.

"It's unique from an approach point-of-view," Eunice told InternetNews.com. "It shows that IBM is hungry. They got their butts kicked in the '90s, watching Compaq and Dell take the [Intel server] market back, and somewhere around 1997 they decided to fight their way back."

However, Eunice said the 4- to 16-way Intel server sector represents merely a segment of the market, and IBM recognizes that. Indeed, IDC recently released market share figures for the fourth quarter of 2001. The market research firm found that Big Blue grabbed the top spot for worldwide Unix market share, with a 26.9 market share, giving it a marginal edge over Sun Microsystems' 26.8 percent.

The x440 joins the host of server makers, such as Hewlett-Packard Co., in unleashing new machines powered by Intel IA-32 Xeon MP chips, which the semiconductor maker debuted yesterday at CeBIT in Hanover, Germany. Available in speeds of 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz and 1.6GHz, MP relies on NetBurst architecture and Hyper-Threading technology, which enables an operating system to view a single physical processor as if it were two logical processors, thus increasing the number of simultaneous Web transactions and users that the server can handle.

As for specifications, the x440 may run any combination of Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems within a single SMP configuration, including up to four physical partitions or up to 64 virtual partitions. EServers come with IBM's "Project eLiza" self-healing technology, which keeps systems running through failures. It also performs management tasks, such as Real Time Diagnostics, Software Rejuvenation and Chipkill technology to help predict and repair potential problems without taking the server off line or shutting it down.

An 8-way x440 server with 16 GBs of SDRAM costs roughly $50,000, or roughly 77 percent less than a similar Unisys system. Customers with even smaller businesses can purchase a two-way IBM eServer x440 for $18,000. A 16-way model is slated for July, price unknown.

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