ServersServer Snapshots: Spotlight on IBM

Server Snapshots: Spotlight on IBM

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Drew Robb

The timing of this server snapshot is somewhat unfortunate, as the year-end server numbers will not be out for yet another week or two. Based on third quarter results, IBM (Armonk, N.Y.), has some work to do. Although it maintained its No. 1 position overall, Big Blue dropped from a 33 percent revenue share to 30 percent.

IBM’s four server lines make for a varied portfolio and perhaps helped Big Blue stay No. 1 in 2007. When it came to product releases and revenue, some segments thrived while others came close to stagnating.

“IBM’s overall revenue and market share decline is attributed mainly to a significant drop in System z sales during the quarter,” said Steve Josselyn, an analyst with Framingham, Mass. based IDC. “We believe that many customers are delaying System z purchases based on the expectation of a new family of systems to be introduced soon. Customers are typically very cautious about investing heavily in a product family that will see decreasing residual values as a new enhanced product is announced and shipped.”

After an apparent renaissance in sales (five quarters of continuous growth), System z caught a major dose of the zzz’s with a 31.9 percent drop in sales. Since then, there have been no significant shifts in the System z line. However, the company has reorganized its server lines in recent months, so it will be interesting to see how much of an impact this has.

System i

According to IDC, System i was another area where sales dropped. Not surprisingly, IBM rolled out several major changes to strengthen this line. It enhanced its i5 OS with better storage virtualization, built-in encryption for backups and data on disk, Java performance, and support for IBM BladeCenter servers. It also added support for IBM High Availability Solutions Manager (HASM) and IBM Systems Director management.

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“The latest version of the i5/OS is supported on the IBM BladeCenter JS22 blade (4 core, 4.0 GHz) in the BladeCenter H chassis,” said Craig Johnson, Power Systems product manager, IBM Systems & Technology Group. “With blade servers, customers can consolidate their System i and Intel processor-based servers into a single chassis, leveraging the management, space and power savings.”

The System i 570, for example, is one of IBM’s initial batch of POWER6 processor-based systems. It has up to 16 POWER6 cores running at 4.7 GHz, up to 768 GB memory, up to 387 TB of disk capacity and up to 160 micro-partitions. It runs AIX and Linux in addition to i5/OS. Pricing starts at $180,000 and includes system, memory, disk and i5/OS.

“The IBM System i 570 is designed for the challenges faced by midsize and large enterprises that need a powerful and versatile system for enterprise business processes and applications,” said Johnson. “Based on POWER6 and i5/OS technology, the System i 570 platform is ideally suited for the deployment of your most critical applications. It also features advanced virtualization technologies designed to promote high systems utilization and efficient power usage.”

System p

If Systems z and i are the poorly performing sectors, System p and x are doing their part to keep IBM on top. Since last July’s IBM snapshot, the company has introduced two new Power6-processor-based Unix servers. The entry-level System p 520 Express and System p 550 Express are designed for mission-critical workloads. IBM hopes to use them to lure Solaris and HP UX customers to the System p fold.

The p520 Express features 1, 2 or 4 cores of a 4.2 GHz POWER6 processor and up to 64 GB of memory. It is suitable for ERP, CRM and logistics applications in remote locations or small robust database servers. List prices for the System p 520 Express start at $5,576 and include 2GB of memory per core; two 73GB, 15K SAS disks; and two power supplies.

“The entry-level p520 servers are targeted to compete aggressively with Sun and its Niagara 2 portfolio on the low end,” said Jeff Howard, director of IBM Power Systems. “The p520 is an attractive offering for small and midsize customers and can be used in roll-outs, such as in-store processing for retail chains.”

System x

The main change in System x is the arrival of the fourth generation of IBM’s chipset technology, eX4. The company believes this marks a significant advance in performance, availability, processing and power efficiencies for its Intel Xeon Series 7000-based servers.

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“eX4 technology, found in the x3950 M2 and x3850 M2, enables richer x86 server configurations to fuel the growth of virtualization on high-end systems,” said Jay Bretzmann, manager IBM System x offerings. “An embedded hypervisor capability will allow clients to more easily adopt virtualization.”

An internal USB interface accommodates chip-based virtualization software preloaded on a 4GB USB flash storage device. The new system also offers double the memory slot capacity. Four times the amount of memory can be hosted on a single chassis compared to the previous system, enabling more virtualization workloads.

The System x3850 M2 is aimed at commercial mid-tier applications, or as a database or consolidation server for enterprise environments. The System x3950 M2, on the other hand, is intended as a scale-up database and as a large consolidation server for large data centers. A two-node x3950 M2 recently posted the highest x86 TPC-C score ever. It performed 841,809 tpmC at a cost of $3.46 per tpm. The server tested eight used Intel Quad Core Xeon 7350, 2.93GHz processors running Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Enterprise x64 Edition (SP2) on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition x64. It was supported by IBM DS4800 subsystems with 48TBs of Fibre Channel storage.

Other new products include: System x3250 M2, which is an edge-of-network and space-constrained office server; System x3200 M2, an affordable, single socket distributed enterprise server; and System x3350, a value server for commercial-applications hosting. The latter product is a 1U model that has enough juice and reliability features to allow users to run e-mail and collaboration apps, Web serving, and Java apps on a single-socket server.

“This is the first single-socket solution to incorporate the enhanced reliability, availability, serviceability and management features found in a dual-socket solution — and at a price point much closer to that of current single-socket solutions,” said Bretzmann. “The x3350 is perfect for single application hosting in a non-blade environment, with availability features never before seen in a single-socket server.”

He touts its energy efficiency, with lean power and cooling consumption to help save on costs. It’s the sort of product that works well where users require a dedicated server, but the application vendor doesn’t support virtualization or the application doesn’t scale to take advantage of multiple sockets. The System x3350 starts at $1,493.


Finally, let’s take a brief look at IBM Blades. Since last summer, IBM has begun shipping its BladeCenter S chassis for SMBs and distributed enterprises. It comes with an “Office Ready Kit” designed to help cut power use and maximize office space.

“It reduces energy use by up to 25 percent, cuts noise in the office by as much as half, runs desk-side or under a desk, and has enhanced physical security and dust filtration so it can operate in a less than pristine environment, all of which helps to maximize space in the front office,” said Tim Dougherty, manager IBM BladeCenter strategy.

Several new models also arrived on the scene. BladeCenter JS22, powered by IBM POWER6 processors is a durable server useful for consolidating multiple applications and servers into a single BladeCenter. You can use it to run Unix and Linux operating systems — concurrently if desired. IBM also introduced the BladeCenter QS21, an updated version of its Cell BE-based blade. Further, the company released IBM BladeCenter Open Fabric Manager, which provides I/O virtualization. Its intended value is to simplify the deployment of blades by virtualizing the Ethernet (MAC Address) and Fibre Channel (Worldwide Name) connections to each blade. This enables users to predefine blade slots and, when a blade is plugged in, it automatically inherits all the right connections.

“IBM continues to have the broadest portfolio of blade offerings in the industry, including five compatible blade enclosures, five families of blades and five I/O fabrics with a common architecture that allows clients to mix and match offerings, customizing it to their specific needs,” said Dougherty.

IBM’s Servers at a Glance


System i

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 SMBs, data centers, high-performance computing centers, and telecom and financial services firms Large and midsize enterprises running mission-critical applications
Processor Type POWER5+, POWER6 POWER5+, POWER6 Xeon, Opteron, Opteron, Xeon, POWER6, Cell BE, Core2Duo 16-chip IBM Multichip Module (MCM), Multiple-channel subsystem (MCSS), Logical partitions (LPAR)
Processor Range SMB: 1- to 4-way;
Large Enterprise: 570 up to 16-way, 595 up to 64-way
Entry: 1- to 8-way;
Midrange: 2- to 16-way;
High-End: 8- 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-based and up to 4-way, x86-based servers 2 to 4 logical channel subsystems

z9 scales from 1- to 54-way
Operating Systems i5/OS, AIX, Linux AIX, Linux Windows, Linux Windows, Linux, i5/OS, AIX-5L z/OS, z/OS.e, Linux on IBM System z, z/VM, z/VSE, zTPF, TPF
Servers Small to Medium:
Medium to Large:
p5 505 Express
p5 510 Express
p5 510Q Express
p 520
p5 520 Express
p5 520Q Express
p550 Express
p5 550 Express
p5 550Q Express
Cluster 1600
p5 560Q Express
High End
p5 575
p5 590
p5 595
p5 570
High Performance Computing:
Commercial Blue Gene3
x3250 M2
x3650 T
x3200 M2
High-Performance Scalable:
x3850 M2
x3950 M2
High-Performance Cluster:
IBM Cluster 1600
IBM Cluster 1350
HS21 extended memory
JS22 Express
System z9 Business Class (z9BC)
System z9 Enterprise Class (z9EC)
Price Range2 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 $820;
Tower: Starts at $892;
High-Performance scalable: Contact IBM
HS21: Starts at $1,906 (economy);
HS21(Extended Memory): Starts at $1,687; HC10: Starts at $2,785; JS21 Express: Starts at $2,838; JS22 Express: Starts at $6,129; LS21: Starts at $1,723; LS41: Starts at $5,917; QS21: $9,995
z9BC: Starts at less than $100,000
z890: Starts at less than $200,000
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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