Server Snapshots: Spotlight on IBM

Things are going well for the IBM server business. Research firm IDC reports that the company achieved worldwide server factory revenue share of 28.9 percent in the first quarter of 2007. It remains No. 1 in blade systems with around 40 percent. It also leads in Unix servers with 13.7 percent year-over-year growth and 29.6 percent revenue share in first quarter. IBM's leadership position in Unix servers was announced on the heels of the company's introduction of POWER6 microprocessor and a new server that leverages it.

IBM has exhibited much growth in both revenue and product offerings since its previous appearance in the Server Snapshot spotlight.

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"The new System p product [based on the P6 processor and AIX 6] is impressive," said Dan Olds, principal of Gabriel Consulting Group. "The new P6 processors at 3.5, 4.2 and 4.7 GHz set the bar high for their competitors."

System p

Since the last server snapshot, IBM has introduced an incredible 14 new p models. These include eight System p5 servers that use the POWER5+ processor, four of which use the 4-core processor module known as the POWER5+ Quad Core Module (QCM), the BladeCenter JS21 blade server and the first server to use the POWER6 processor, the System p 570. They range from blade and 1U form factors with up to two cores to the 64-core p5-595. Accordingly, the company has withdrawn selected speeds of the models from last year's System p listing.

"The POWER6 is the world's fastest microprocessor, and the System p 570 server leverages the chip's many breakthroughs in energy conservation and virtualization technology," said Jeff Howard, director of System p offering management at IBM. "At 4.7 GHz, the dual-core POWER6 processor doubles the speed of the previous generation POWER5 while using the same amount of electricity to run and cool it."

As a result, customers can use the new processor to increase their performance by 100 percent or cut power consumption in half. Howard boasts that the POWER6 is nearly three times faster than the latest Itanium processor powering HP's server line. He also said the p570 is the first server to hold all four major benchmark speed records for business and technical performance. In total, the System p 570 now holds more than 20 benchmark records, Howard said. In the coming months, expect more p servers to be migrated over to POWER6 technology.

System i

Probably the biggest news in this category is the introduction of System i Express. This enables small and midsize business clients to purchase an all-in-one system on a per-user basis. Another addition, developed with the 3Com, is System i Integrated Collaboration solution, which integrates IP telephony with e-mail, messaging and core business process applications on a single platform.

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IBM Secure Perspective for System i, meanwhile, has been designed to enable businesses to create enforceable security policies. Its non-technical language means managers and line of business heads can take an active role in determining how company information is protected. Finally, System i Capacity BackUp (CBU) editions have the goal of lowering the cost of implementing a second system for business continuity between 30 and 50 percent. They come, for example, with a set of standby processors that can be used at no-charge in the event of a disaster or individually activated to support additional applications.

"Customers can realize further savings by temporarily transferring their licenses for i5/OS (System i's flagship operating system) from their primary system to the CBU Edition to avoid incurring extra fees when either scheduled or unplanned outages occur," said Jim Herring, director of IBM System i products and business operations.

But its the System i Express that Herring really wants to talk about. Designed for five to 40 users, it uses the POWER5+ processor and includes a built-in workload manager that enables clients to run multiple applications independently on one system instead of deploying a new server every time they need another application. Pricing starts at $7,995 and includes five user licenses. Additional user licenses are $1,250 per five users.

System x

Although its heart and soul may lie elsewhere, IBM is doing just fine on the System x front. Revenue grew 6 percent in 2006, outpacing the entire x86 market in 4Q06 with factory revenue expansion of 7.8 percent. It also posted strong share gains in the high-end x86 segment, with 11.4 percent share in the 4-socket space.

"System x is doing a great job of addressing the ever-increasing x86 virtualization market," said Olds. "They are one of the few large-scale x86 server vendors that offers state-of-the-art management and availability features."

During the past year, IBM has added an entire AMD line consisting of several rack, tower and high-performance models. It even includes 2-socket and 4-socket blades — the LS21 and LS41. Otherwise, the company has refreshed the other System x servers with dual-core and quad-core processors.

To help the world understand its server systems at a glance, IBM unveiled a new four-digit naming system. The first digit (3) means x86 server; the second digit (1-6) means 2-socket, high-volume server (7-9 means 4-socket, high-end system); the third digit (0 or 5) indicates rack or tower (towers are 0 and racks are 5); and fourth digit (0 or 5) indicates Intel (0) or AMD (5). Easy, eh?

So, for example, x3550 means:

3   x86 server
5   2-socket, high-volume server (1-6)
5   rack-optimized platform
0   Intel based product

Jay Bretzmann, manager of System x offerings named the x3850 and x3950 as the line's premier products.

"Based on IBM chip set design, they are optimized for server consolidation and virtualization," he noted. "As more and more customers start virtualizing, these two products provide the necessary performance and reliability features to give clients confidence."


IBM has been busy on the blade front as well. IBM BladeCenter S was designed to minimize IT administration and integrate applications most commonly used for business functions — such as anti-virus/firewall, voice over IP, e-mail, collaboration, back-up and recovery, and file and print applications.

"IBM BladeCenter S is the industry's first blade computing system designed to help smaller firms simplify the management of technology needed to operate a small business — from servers to phone systems and antivirus applications — in a single system," says Tim Dougherty, manager of BladeCenter strategy and planning. "BladeCenter S can help reduce the 25 to 45 servers used by an average midsize company by up to 80 percent."

Several other blade innovations have also been introduced. IBM Workstation Blade and its associated connection broker software and desktop device enable the remote hosting of workstation environments. The BladeCenter HC10 workstation blade, for example, is suited for engineering design applications (CAD), financial applications, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications and distance collaboration. The HC10 starts at $2,785.00.

In addition, IBM 'Open Fabric' interconnect technologies is a suite of hardware and software offerings for the BladeCenter systems that helps increase speed, efficiency and administration of data transfer between blade servers and I/O networks. In conjunction with Blade Network Technologies and NetXen, IBM teamed up through Blade.org to deliver the industry's first 10GE connectivity solution for blade servers on IBM BladeCenter.

Finally, BladeCenter HT is a 'hardened' blade server system that meets international telecommunications standards and includes high-performance computing interconnects and switching for network applications.

"The new system will help the telco industry deliver next-generation applications for consumers, such as high-speed broadband, Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), Voice over IP (VoIP), Video on Demand (VoD) and Advanced Security solutions (e.g., firewall and intrusion prevention)," says Dougherty.

System z

Although System z could be viewed as IBM's "Old Faithful," the line continues to come in for advances, particularly in the area of security. The System z mainframe security architecture, for example, has been extended for Linux, and includes features to enable customers to meet regulatory compliance requirements securely.

"Customers transacting business over the Internet need a highly secure connection between their mainframe and remote servers and devices," says Randy Daniel, director of marketing for System z. "zIIP-assisted IPSec can provide a cost-effective high-speed encryption engine for customers requiring end-to-end encryption over the Internet."

In addition, CryptoExpress2 can provide secure-key cryptography and key management, and protect encryption keys from disclosure, modification and misuse. It can also provide acceleration for SSL encryption.

IBM has also been working to provide mainframes at a more affordable price to bring the platform to a wider market. System z9 BC, for example, has new application license charges for z/OS and lower pricing for z/VSE. The System z9 BC starts at $100,000.

IBM's Server Lines, at a Glance

System i
System p
System x
BladeCenter and BladeCenter T (Telecom Chassis)
System z
Description Midrange servers Unix servers Intel and AMD processor-based servers Intel, AMD and PowerPC-based servers Mainframe-class servers
Target Deployment
SMBs and large enterprise data centers Data centers of all sizes Scale-up and scale-out x86 users SMB, data centers, high-performance computing centers, and telecom and financial services firms Large and midsize enterprises running mission-critical applications
Processor Type
POWER5+ and POWER6 POWER5, POWER5+ and POWER6 Xeon and Opteron, Opteron, Xeon and POWER 16-chip IBM Multichip Module, Multiple-channel subsystem and Logical partitions
Processor Range SMB: 1- to 4-way;
Large Enterprise: 570, up to 16-way;
595, up to 64-way
Entry: 1- to 4-way;
Midrange: 2- to 16-way;
High-End: 32- to 64-way
Rack-Optimized: 1 to 4 sockets
Tower: 1 to 4 sockets
High-Performance scalable: 4 to 16 sockets
Support for 2-way POWER- and 4-way Intel-based servers 2 to 4 logical channel subsystems
z9 scales from 1- to 54-way
Operating Systems i5/OS, AIX and Linux AIX-5L and Linux Windows and Linux Windows, Linux and AIX-5L z/OS, z/OS.e, Linux on IBM System z, z/VM, z/VSE, zTPF and TPF
Servers Small to Medium:
Medium to Large:
p5 505 Express
p5 510 Express
p5 510Q Express
p5 520 Express
p5 520Q Express
p5 550 Express
p5 550Q Express
Cluster 1600
RS/6000 SP
p5 560Q Express
High End
p5 575
p5 590
p5 595
p5 570
High Performance Computing:
Commercial Blue Gene1
High-Performance Scalable:
High-Performance Cluster:
IBM Cluster 1600
IBM Cluster 1350
HS20 (ultra low power)
HS21 extended memory
System z9 Business Class (z9BC)
System z9 Enterprise Class (z9EC)2
Price Range3
SMB: The starting price for the IBM System i 515 Express is $ 7,995; Large Enterprise: Contact IBM Entry: Starts at $3,399; Midrange: Starts at $26,187; High-End: Contact IBM Rack Server: Starts at $850; Tower: Starts at $629; High-Performance scalable: Contact IBM HS20: Starts at $1,839 (economy); HS20 (ultra low power): Starts at $1,749; HS21: Starts at $2,580; HS21(Extended Memory): Starts at $2,209; HC10: Starts at $2,785; JS20: Starts at $2,399; JS21 Express: Starts at $2,999; LS20: Starts at $2,699; LS21: Starts at $2,299; LS41: Starts at $8,299 z9BC: Starts at less than $100,000; z890: Starts at less than $200,000; Others: Contact IBM
1 Commercial Blue Gene3 powered by PowerPC 450. Contact IBM for pricing.
2 The System z line also includes the S/390 G5/G6 and S/390 Multiprise, which are no longer sold but are still supported.
3 Based on IBM's posted prices.

This article was originally published on Jul 20, 2007
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