ServersIBM Server Snapshot: Big Changes at Big Blue

IBM Server Snapshot: Big Changes at Big Blue

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Drew Robb

The big news since the last IBM server snapshot in February, of course, is the combining of the System i and System p, but obviously, that isn’t all IBM has done in the past six months.

Hard-Core Hardware: A new mainframe offering, and the consolidation and launch of sever lines are but some of the big changes at Big Blue in the past six months.

Among the highlights are the next-generation System z mainframe, a new line of servers known as System x iDataPlex, and several new blade servers — the HS12 and JS12.


In April, IBM announced the birth of Power Systems. This effectively represented a combination of System i and System p into a single group. As part of the reorg, IBM appeared to be primarily focusing on reducing costs via organizational streamlining, and component sharing. Both System i and p have used the same POWER-family processor for several years now for example, Steve Sibley, manager, Power Systems Offering Management, noted:

Recent Server Snapshots

The new Power Systems line offers IBM virtualizationtechnology and energy-saving capabilities to help dramatically reduce bottom-line operating costs, such as those for energy, floor space and systems management, while improving system performance, helping customers transition to a new enterprise data center.

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata (Nashua, N.H.), put things in historical perspective. “System i and System p sprang from wholly different roots,” he said. “System i, long known as the AS/400, was an independent thread of IBM systems development. System p, on the other hand, was long called the RS/6000, then later pSeries.”

According to Haff, this also means that there’s now one common set of system models that can run AIX, i, or Linux operating systems &3151 or a combination thereof using the integrated server virtualization features that fall under the PowerVM umbrella.

What does this mean in terms of products? Several new low-end Power Systems have been introduced, such as the Power 520 Express, Power 550 Express and the i Edition Express for the BladeCenter S.

“They deliver value and performance in a package suitable for the budget constraints and limited administrative assets of SMBs,” said Sibley.

Shortly after announcing these servers, IBM introduced two new high-end Power Systems servers. The Power 595, which Sibley characterizes as a “water-cooled supercomputer,” and the Power 575, which he claims is the world’s fastest Unix server.

The unification of the IBM i operating system (formerly known as i5/OS) with AIX and Linux on Power systems and POWER processor-based BladesCenter, according to Sibley, is providing users new opportunities to optimize their IT infrastructure.

“Clients taking advantage of the simple-to-use, integrated i operating environment and database can now leverage the systems industry’s fastest processor and most popular midrange servers to update their infrastructure and run both their traditional applications as well as AIX and Linux applications,” he said.

System z

The major change to System z is the introduction of the z10EC, which IBM markets as its next-generation mainframe. According to Anne Altman, general manager, IBM System z, this new machine enables businesses to better manage and accommodate the complexity of today’s data centers as well as eases the transition to managing IT as a service.

“The arrival of the System z10EC mainframe addresses the fact that data center costs and complexity continue to rise and intensify,” said Altman. “Built to be shared, the z10 helps business units within a firm to share, track and automate the management of IT resources.”

She believes the z10 compares well against virtualized x86 servers — i.e., IBM touts this as a better platform than x86 for virtualization. In addition, the z10 is up to 50 percent faster and offers up to 100 percent performance improvement for CPU-intensive jobs, and up to 70 percent more capacity than the previous z9 line.

System x

The iDataPlex is the new member of the System x family. It was built with Web 2.0 style computing in mind. As such, it is designed to operate massive data centers with tens of thousands of servers.

“iDataPlex is a new line of rack systems featuring design innovations in cooling and efficiency that can help replace the inefficient white-box servers commonly used by Internet companies,” said Rajesh Sukhramani, manager System x marketing. “As consumers demand richer content and more immediate access to Web-based applications, iDataPlex can allow online gaming, social network, search and Internet companies to scale rapidly to meet this need.”

According to Sukhramani, the iDataPlex uses less space, which enables administrators to double the number of servers they can run in a single rack for better space utilization. He also states that it saves up to 40 percent energy and less air conditioning.

iDataPlex solutions are arranged in rack configurations with IBM Flexible Node Technology to tailor it for each specific business — you can mix and match to achieve the right balance of compute intensity, networking and storage-rich nodes.

“System x servers are an important element in helping clients develop a new enterprise data center, which offers dramatic improvements in IT efficiency and provides for rapid deployment of new IT services to support future business growth,” said Sukhramani.

Coming in September, the dx320 will be the next addition to the iDataplex family of servers. It is said to be optimized for significantly lower power and is aimed at extreme scale environments.

The Future

Like most vendors these days, IBM is going all out on the green bandwagon. In fact, its strange predilection to air primetime ads about System z products, has now been augmented by an equally puzzling series of ads with a green flavor. The ads may make sense to techies but not to the millions watching TV who hardly even know what a server is.

Anyway, at least IBM is not just hot air. It is investing heavily to back up its green trumpet blowing.

“Looking to the future, scientists at IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratory recently presented a pioneering concept of a zero-emission data center at CeBIT 2008,” said Sibley. “A new kind of water-cooling system embedded on a chip is the basis for an innovation that captures the water at its hottest and pipes it off the chip for reuse in heating a building or for hot water.”

The research team is currently trying to get the water even closer to the chip, not with a copper plate but actually inside the chip. Sibley states that once the water is captured, it can be routed out of the computer and pumped into the heating system for re-use.

IBM’s Software Offerings, at a Glance

Server Line

(System i and System p)

System x


System z

Description Midrange servers/Unix servers Intel, AMD processor-based servers Intel, AMD, POWER6 and Cell BE based servers as well as Intel workstation clients 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+, POWER6 Intel Xeon, AMD Opteron Opteron, Xeon, POWER6 and Cell BE z9 BC has 8 CPUs on an IBM Multichip Module (MCM)with 16 total chips Chips: 8 PU chips/MCM, 4 System Data (SD) cache chips/MCM, One Storage Control (SC) chip, two Memory Storage Control (MSC) chips and one Clock (CLK) chip – CMOS 8S
Processor Range Power Blades: 2- to 4-way
Power 520: 1- to 4-way
Power 550: 2- to 8-way
Power 570: 2- to 16-way
Power 595: 8- to 64-way
Rack-Optimized: 1 to 4-way
Tower: 1 to 4-way
High-Performance Scalable: 4 to 16-way
Support for 2-way POWER and up to 4-way x86-based servers z10 scales from 1-64-way
z9BC: 1-7 processors
z9EC: 1-54-way
Operating Systems i5/OS, AIX, Linux Windows, Linux, Unix, Solaris Windows, Linux, IBM i, AIX, Solaris z/OS, z/OS.e, Linux on IBM System z, z/VM, z/VSE, VSE/ESA, TPF, z/TPF
Servers Power2:
Power Blade Express Servers
Power 520 Express
Power 550 Express
Power 570
Power 575 supercomputing node
Power 595
System i
Small to Medium:
i515 Express
i5 520
i5 520 Express
i525 Express
Medium to Large:
i595 System P
p5 505 Express
p5 505Q Express
p5 510 Express
p5 510Q Express
p5 520 Express
p5 520Q Express
p5 550 Express
p5 550Q Express
p5 560Q Express
High End
p5 595
High Performance Computing:
Commercial Blue Gene3
x3250 M2
x3550 Express Model
x3650 T
3650 Express Model
3655 Express Model
x3200 M2
x3850 M2
x3850 Express Model
x3950 M2
Internet Scale System x iDataPlex
High-Performance Cluster:
Cluster 1350
Cluster 1600
HS21 extended memory
LS42 Power Based:
JS12 Express
JS21 Express
JS22 Express Cell-Based:
QS22 QS21
z10 Enterprise Class
z9 Business Class (z9BC)
z9 Enterprise Class (z9EC)1
Price Range2 Power 520 Express – Starts at $5,576; Power 550 Express – Starts at $25,247; IBM System i models – Contact IBM; p5 505 Express – Starts at $3,717; p5 550 Express – Starts at $13,840; High-End: Contact IBM Rack Server: Starts at $1045
Tower: Starts at $989 (economy)
High-Performance scalable: Contact IBM
HS21: starts at $1,896 (economy)
JS12: Starts at $4,228
JS21: Starts at $2,838
JS22: Starts at $5,779
LS21: Starts at $1,550 (economy)
LS22: Starts at $2,109
QS22: Starts at $9,995
z9BC: starts at around $100,000
Others: Contact IBM

1 The System z line also includes the S/390 G5/G6 and S/390 Multiprise, which are no longer sold but are still supported.
2 Based on IBM’s posted prices.
3 Commercial Blue Gene3 powered by PowerPC 450. Contact IBM for pricing.

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