System X Marks the Spot

Last week's snapshot covered IBM System z and Power Systems. These represent the highest performing areas of the company's product portfolio, according to Jeffrey Hewitt, an analyst at Gartner. This week's Snapshot goes into the lesser-performing area: System x and IBM BladeCenter.

Server Snapshot: IBM's innovation isn't limited to its POWER-based servers. A host of new System x and BladeCenter offerings are poised to bring Big Blue to the top volume spot.

According to IDC, IBM is behind HP and Dell in market share on x86 overall, and it is being out-gunned by HP in blades. Overall, however, IBM remains on top when all server revenue is taken into account, although it loses out on volume shipments. So what is IBM doing to close the gap on its competitors in x86 and blades?

System x

In March, IBM unveiled a new generation of Intel Xeon processor 5500 series-based System x servers. These servers are the x3650 M2, x3550 M2, and iDataPlex dx360 M2. IBM also introduced "Express" models of the new systems designed for midsize companies.

"These servers enable customers to more easily roll out virtualized computing and significantly reduce growing operating costs with high performance, simplified management and increased utilization," said Robert Galush, vice president for Systems and Technology at IBM.

The x3650 M2 and x3550 M2 are two-socket enterprise servers built with a new design to minimize power distribution complexity and reduce energy loss. Both can use up to two 2.93 GHz quad-core Intel 5500 series processors and 128 GB of RAM. They start at $2,399 and $2,125, respectively.

The x3400 M2, on the other hand, is a 5U tower with optional rackmount capabilities. It can hold up to two 2.53 GHz Intel Xeon E5540 processors with 4 MB or 8 MB of optimized L2 cache and 96 GB DDR-3 RAM. Its starting price is listed at $1,199. The x3500 M2 is another 5U tower with optional rackmount capability. It can use up to two 2.93 GHz x5570 processors with 8 MB of cache and 128 GB of RAM. The starting price is listed at $2,385.

"The x3400 M2 and x3500 M2 provide greater than 92 percent power efficiency and up to 60 percent reduction in power when idle," said Galush. "They also provide up to 25 percent reduction when fully utilized vs. the previous generation — resulting in energy savings that can reach up to 95 percent compared to previous generations of x86 servers."

For those with a lack of floor space, the iDataPlex dx360 M2 can use up to two 3.33 GHz 5500 series quad-core processors and up to 64 GB DDR-3 RAM via 16 DIMM slots.

"The iDataPlex dx360 M2 is specifically designed for data centers that require high performance, yet are constrained on floor space, power and cooling infrastructure," said Galush.

On the AMD front, the x3455 is a 1U rack server that uses one to two quad-core Opteron processors, up to 2.50 GHz. It can hold up to 48 GB RAM and the starting price is listed at $1,413.

The only server recently retired System x server is the Cluster 1600.


The biggest news with IBM BladeCenter is the release of new blades supporting AMD's six-core Istanbul Opteron and Shanghai Opteron, as well as Intel's 5500 series processor.

The latest-generation LS22 is a two-socket blade server featuring the quad-core AMD Opteron 2000-series processor. It can hold up to 64 GB RAM and has a starting price of $2,029. The LS42 is an enterprise-class, two- or four-socket blade server featuring the 8000-series quad-core AMD Opteron processor. Its standard 4 GB RAM can be upgraded to 128 GB. The starting price is $6,315.

In parallel with the release of the LS22 and LS42, the company has released a blade with the latest Intel Nehalem processors — the HS22. This two-socket blade has up to 2.93 GHz processors and up to 96 GB DDR-3 RAM. The starting price is listed at $2,145.

In addition, IBM continued to refine its BladeCenter S, which is designed for small offices and remote branch environments, by adding shared storage capability.

"BladeCenter S cuts the cost of shared storage technology by 30 to 40 percent, and offers access of up to 12 terabytes of storage," said Alex Yost, vice president and business line executive, IBM BladeCenter. "Further, IBM and QLogic have teamed up to offer a full 8 Gb Fibre Channel on our entire family of BladeCenters."

Storage came in for additional attention as IBM worked with the likes of BLADE Network Technology (BNT), Brocade, Emulex and QLogic to offer a faster, self-managed converged network designed to increase efficiency while cutting costs."

"As convergence accelerates, today's data centers combine many separate networks which usually require different sets of hardware, tools and oftentimes even separate IT staff for each network," said Yost.

IBM's x86 Server Offerings, at a Glance

System x
Description Intel, AMD processor-based servers Intel, AMD, POWER6 and Cell BE based servers as well as Intel workstation clients
Target Deployment Scale up and scale out x86 servers SMBs, data centers looking to virtualize and consolidate, high-performance computing centers, and telecom and financial services firms
Processor Type Intel Xeon, AMD Opteron AMD Opteron, Intel Xeon, POWER6, Cell BE
Processor Range Rack-Optimized: 1- to 4-way
Tower: 1- to 4-way
High-Performance Scalable: 4 to 16-way
Support for 2-way POWER-based and up to 4-way, x86-based servers
Operating Systems Windows, Linux, VMware, Solaris Windows, Linux, IBM i, AIX, Solaris
Servers Rackmount
x3250 M2
x3550 Express
x3550 M2
x3550 M2 Express
x3650 Express
x3650 M2
x3650 M2 Express
x3650 T
x3655 Express

x3200 M2
x3400 M2
x3500 M2

x3850 M2
x3850 Express
x3950 M2

iDataPlex dx360 M2

High Performance Cluster
Cluster 1350
HS21 extended memory


JS12 Express
JS22 Express
JS23 Express
JS43 Express

Price Rack Server: Starts at $1045
Tower: Starts at $989 (economy)
High-Performance scalable: Contact IBM
HS22: Starts at $2145
HS21: Starts at $1517 (economy)
HS12: Starts at $1,273 (economy)
PN41: Contact IBM
JS12: Starts at $3,978
JS22: Starts at $5,779
JS23: Starts at $8919
JS43: Starts at $17,517
LS21: Starts at $1,241 (economy)
LS22: Starts at $2,029 (economy)
LS41: Starts at $5244 (economy)
LS42: Starts at $3,800
QS21: Starts at $6,995
QS22: Starts at $9,995

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Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he was originally from Scotland where he received a degree in Geology/Geography from the University of Strathcyle. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

This article was originally published on Jul 24, 2009
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