Hardware Today: IBM Server Snapshot
July 24, 2006
Today, IBM sits pretty as the worldwide server market leader based on revenue. But that doesn't mean all is entirely rosy at Big Blue. According to Gartner's latest numbers, revenues decreased 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2006 compared to the first quarter of the previous year. The systems vendor actually recorded income drops in its iSeries, pSeries, and zSeries eServer product lines, although the x86-based server product lines (xSeries and BladeCenter) outperformed the market, growing 11 percent.
"The blade segment of the market displayed strong growth again," says Jeffrey Hewitt, an analyst at Gartner. "IBM holds the leading market position in blade servers in volume and revenue terms."
To stay market leader, IBM has shaken up its server line organization and introduced many new product (as well as end-of-lifing) quite a few models.
"As part of IBM's systems agenda, you have seen the server lines re-emerge as System x, System p, System I, System z and BladeCenter," says Tim Dougherty, IBM director of blade strategy.
This has been more than a mere renaming ceremony, however. Yes, the xSeries is now known as System x, and so on. But the OpenPower line of servers tuned for Linux has been absorbed completely by the other categories, and there are plenty of other changes, as illustrated in the "IBM Servers, At a Glance " table that follows this article.
In January 2006, IBM unveiled the System i line, which is aimed at small and midsize businesses. Its mission is to mask the complexity of IT operations. It uses the POWER5+, a dual-core chip that runs at up to 2.2 GHz (a 33 percent increase in performance compared to the previous POWER5-based System i models).
A new option for Windows management enables BladeCenter to integrate with System i through an iSCSI connection. This allows customers to use the virtual storage, networking, and tape resources of System i to simplify Windows server management. Additionally, the System i 520 Solution Edition for Oracle's JD Edwards EnterpriseOne has been released to compete with Windows-based systems, like Dell PowerEdge.
"At the same time, we also introduced a new version of our integrated operating system, i5/OS V5R4," says Elaine Lennox, vice president of System i marketing. "This offers customers greater flexibility to run Linux, AIX 5L, and Microsoft Windows applications on the same system."
Since the last server snapshot, IBM introduced 11 new p models. These include eight System p5 servers, three of which use a 4-core processor module, known as the POWER5+ Quad Core Module (QCM). They range from 2U form factors with up to four cores, to an 8U model with 16 cores.
"The IBM System p5 570 is the first of any 16-core system to deliver more than 1 million transactions per minute," says Karl Freund, vice president of System p at IBM. "The IBM System p5 575 server is equipped with 16-core and 8-core capabilities."
The 16-core p575 version is available with 100 GFLOPS/node for computationally demanding applications and up to 256 GB of memory, with less than 200 GBps memory bandwidth. It offers just under 1 TeraFLOP per footprint. The 8-core has just under 25 GBps of memory per processor.
On the System x front, IBM released several new models:
It's also the end of the road for the x260, x460, and x366. They were replaced by the x3800, x3950, and x3850, respectively.
"Across our entire x86 line, you will see a continued focus on technology and innovation that lowers power and cooling related costs within the data center," says Alex Yost, director, IBM System x.
Further additions include 'Cool Blue,' a technology component that uses the existing chilled water supply for air conditioning systems to reduce server heat emissions by up to 55 percent, and PowerExecutive, a software solution used to better manage power consumption across a datacenter's entire infrastructure.
As noted in the Gartner figures above, IBM is gaining the most ground in the BladeCenter arena. And there are plenty of changes here, too.
The BladeCenter JS20 has been replaced by the next-generation JS21. The dual-core Intel Xeon-based BladeCenter HS21 recently joined this dual-core POWER-based blade. A low-power version, the HS20, is also available.
"Our BladeCenter business has been booming in 2006," says Dougherty. "Our latest chassis, BladeCenter H, is compatible with existing BladeCenter systems, and delivers more than 40 Gb of I/O bandwidth to every blade server."
Further, Big Blue has been instrumental in the formation of Blade.org, a collaborative organization and developer community focused on accelerating the expansion of blade solutions within the IBM and Intel blade perimeter. Although only four months old, it already claims 75 members, and IBM clearly has big plans.
"IBM expects the BladeCenter ecosystem around Blade.org to continue to explode, with new partners, products, and solutions coming to market throughout the year," says Dougherty. "Look for additional in-a-box solutions, expanding upon our retail, banking, small business, and security product portfolio."
Since our previous snapshot, IBM discontinued the z800 and z900 mainframes. All the attention now goes to newer models, such as the System z9 Business Class (z9 BC) and the System z9 Enterprise Class (z9 EC). The company also released FICON Express 4 for System z9 (both z9 EC and z9 BC). This is designed to improve I/O capacity and performance with 4 Gbps FICON and Fibre Channel.
"System z9 is one of the most sophisticated computing systems ever with built in tools for security and virtualization," says Randy Daniel, director, IBM System z. "These new systems support the z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP), a specialty processor designed to enable businesses to more easily centralize back-end workloads."
The z9 Business Class is a mainframe aimed at small to medium enterprises. Incorporating all of the features of the more heavy duty System z9 EC, it features 73 capacity settings. Entry models are priced from around $100,000.
To make sure its massive investment in mainframe systems isn't squelched by a lack of programmers, IBM has launched a series of initiatives to facilitate more training at college level.
"We have developed university courseware and a global, 'Master the Mainframe student contest to reach the next generation of mainframe developers," says Daniel. "The future is dependent on mainframe professionals, so building our academic initiative will be central to our mission as well as working with our partners to enhance and extend our application portfolio."
As for the future, it is almost impossible to get more than vague generalities from IBM with regard to its development pipeline. Suffice to say, more servers are coming soon. Look out, in particular, for some upgrades to the System p line.
"IBM is planning to launch high-end Power5+ Unix-based servers," says Freund.
2 Based on IBM's posted prices.
3 Commercial Blue Gene runs PowerPC 970 processors and is 5.7 teraflops. Contact IBM for pricing.