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IBM System x Server Buying Guide

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted April 9, 2012


While some vendors rush to get their newest servers to market featuring the latest and greatest from Intel, IBM typically takes its time. In that vein, it recently released its new System x line up a few weeks back.

According to Dan Olds, an analyst with Gabriel Consulting Group (GCG), it was worth the wait.

"IBM's System x unit is pushing the performance pedal to the floor in their newest systems," he said. "Expect to hear them talking about systems with more and faster memory, more SSD options, and much higher network and disk I/O."

One of the interesting points about the new server release is how everything seems to dovetail together from an IBM strategic marketing standpoint. Remember all those Smart Computing ads on TV over the past year? That seems to be the focus of all IBM messaging. Even the server marketing side has fallen into step with its positioning of the System x, not to mention other recent System z and IBM Power releases. Everything relates to smarter computing, analytics and business intelligence (BI). It is clear where the company is heading and how it is addressing the marketplace.

"From the design of the servers, software and services, IBM solutions are created to help accelerate the journey to Smarter Computing," said Adalio Sanchez, general manager, IBM System x business. "IBM is delivering easy-to-deploy cloud and analytics products to help clients align their businesses to manage unprecedented amounts of data and become much more efficient at turning that information into timely business insights."

So that's the overall direction, but how about the servers themselves?

IBM BladeCenter HS23

The IBM BladeCenter HS23 seems to be getting more emphasis than all the others combined, so let's look at it in the most detail. The H23 blade is the building block behind a new version of IBM's BladeCenter Foundation for Cloud (BCFC) offering. BCFC is an integrated virtualization platform with built-in system management, along with preconfigured servers, storage and networking.

"The IBM BladeCenter HS23 delivers 62 percent more compute power than the prior generation of HS22 systems," said Otis Lackey of IBM System x Marketing. "BCFC comes integrated with new Emulex 10GbE Virtual Fabric technology that enables clients to run 20 percent more virtual machines to create an optimal environment for building and deploying advanced cloud applications."

Additional features include: the choice of hot-swap drives that allow clients to match specific capacity, performance, cost, and reliability needs; built-in energy monitors that help save on energy costs and consumption; fast, scalable memory that delivers up to 1600 MHz performance for compute-intensive applications and virtualized environments; and the use of the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 product family that supports up to 8 cores.

IBM System x3650 M4

IBM System x3650 M4 delivers 80 percent higher compute performance than the previous generation. This 2U rack includes technology like optional 10GbE Virtual Fabric, optional eXFlash SSD solutions and 768GB of memory capacity. In benchmarks such as TPC-E, SAP and SPECvirt, it took top spot, notching the highest scores ever for two-processor systems.

This rack comes standard with four 1GbE ports and an available slotless 10GbE Virtual Fabric upgrade. The x3650 M4 is also the engine behind IBM's Smarter Analytics portfolio.

"IBM Smarter Analytics is a set of compact, integrated, single-analytics products supported by storage-dense System x two-socket systems running IBM InfoSphere Data Warehouse and Cognos business intelligence and performance management software," said Lackey.

IBM System x 3550 M4

The IBM System x3550 M4 is a 1U rack that comes with predictive failure analysis, redundant power and disk mirroring capabilities. It has up to twice the performance of previous generation servers and is targeted at cloud deployments. How does it rack up against the competition?

"The x3550 delivers four times more memory, more virtual machines and improved networking performance in less space at a comparable price," claimed Lackey.

IBM System x3500 M4

The IBM System x3500 M4is a dual-socket 5U tower designed for quiet operation. It fits easily under a desk but also has an optional rack-mount capability. The intended market is small and midsize businesses, office environments and branch office locations. It comes with up to eight PCIe expansion slots; six PCIe slots standard, plus two additional PCIe slots when the second processor is populated. An optional PCI-X slot is available via an interposer conversion kit. Inside, the server has up to 32 TB of 2.5" hot-swap SAS/SATA drives (HDD upgrade options required) or 24 TB of 3.5" hot-swap or simple-swap SAS/SATA HDDs.

IBM System x iDataPlex dx360 M4

The System x iDataPlex dx360 M4 is aimed at high-performance computing (HPC) workloads: specifically, data centers that require HPC with limited floor space, power and cooling. It comes with IBM warm water-cooled technology to make it 40 percent more energy efficient than air-cooled systems.

This half-depth, dual-socket system uses 2.7 GHz 8-core Xeon 35-2600 Series processors (up to 168 per iDataPlex rack), up to 256 GB of RAM per server, two dedicated x16 PCIe 3.0 slots per server and up to 6.0 TB HDD storage per 2U chassis.

In addition, all of the above systems are equipped with IBM Feature on Demand. This allows users to activate or unlock features in the firmware or software on demand.

"IBM sees a world where customers will be pushing their systems to the limits to handle routine processing but also new, and staggeringly large, workloads like enterprise analytics," said Olds. "To handle these workloads, x86 systems need to have larger memory spaces, more I/O bandwidth, and the ability to reliably run flat out for long periods of time. We're going to be seeing IBM emphasize these characteristics with their new system introductions both on the rack and blade side."

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles based freelancer specializing in all aspects of technology, engineering and renewable energy. Born and raised in Scotland, he received a degree in Geology/Geography from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

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