Hardware Today: IBM Server Snapshot

by Ben Freeman

From its midrange iSeries servers to its zSeries mainframes, and from its POWER-based pSeries servers to its Intel-based xSeries products, IBM's eServer portfolio has both breadth and depth. We look at what's new in the four lines and see what's on the Big Blue road map.

To sum up IBM's eServer offerings is a daunting task. Big Blue's four server lines span more than 10 processor types and a dozen operating systems, with some systems more easily categorized than others. To get a sense of its size, consider that IBM's xSeries line is one of four; yet, in and of itself, it is nearly three times the size of Dell's entire server stable.

IBM's market share reflects the breadth of its offerings. According to IDC's sales numbers for the fourth quarter of 2003, Big Blue owned 37.9 percent of the market based on whopping 17.7 percent year-to-year worldwide revenue growth.

IBM's divides its offerings into four distinct server lines, which makes navigating its myriad of offerings easier. As our initial IBM server snapshot (published in October 2003) detailed the basics of each line, this Server Snapshot focuses on what has changed in the past seven months and where each line is going.

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In a nutshell: The iSeries are POWER-run, OS/400-based servers; the pSeries is fueled by AIX and Linux on POWER; the xSeries covers Intel; and zSeries system are mainframes that thrive in scale-up environments.

In recent months, the lines in the portfolio have begun to blur, bringing strategies pioneered by Louis Gerstner in 1993 to bear. "His vision," iSeries Product Marketing Manager Ian Jarman told ServerWatch, "was to exploit our technology portfolio more broadly across the company." The pending technological convergence of the pSeries and iSeries server lines is but one example. This open technology focus means some new servers will transcend the four current eServer categories, as is the case with the i5 520 and i5 570.

The chart below is an updated version of the chart that appeared in our original IBM Server Snapshot. Offerings added since October 2003 appear in bold; offerings being supported but no longer sold are italicized; and offerings that have been retired are listed in table footnotes.

IBM's eServer Portfolio at a Glance

DescriptionMidrange serversUnix serversIntel processor-based serversMainframe-class servers
Target DeploymentSMBs and enterprise departmentsData centers of all sizesScale up and scale out x86 users
Large and midsize enterprises running mission-critical apps with no tolerance for downtime
Processor TypePOWER-4, POWER5
JS20: PowerPC 970
P4, Xeon, Itanium-216 chip IBM Multichip Module (MCM)
Multiple-channel subsystem (MCSS) allows logical partitions (LPARs) which can run different operating systems
Processor RangeSmall to Medium: 1- to 2-way;
Medium/Large: 6- to 24-way
Entry: 1- to 4-way
Midrange: 2- to 16-way;
High-End: 8- to 32-way
Rack-Optimized: 1- to 4-way,
Tower: 1- to 4-way,
High-Performance scalable: 4 to 16-way
2 to 4 logical channel subsystems
Operating Systemsi5 (V5R3), OS/400 V5R2, Windows, Linux, AIX-5LAIX-5L, LinuxWindows, Linux, AIX, MVS, x86 operating systemsz/OS, z/OS.e, OS/390, Linux on zSeries, z/VM, TPF, VSE/ESA
ServersSmall to Medium:
800, 810

Medium to Large:
825, 870, 890,
i5 520, i5 5701
615 6C3, 630 6C4, 615 6E3, 630 6E4

650, 655, 670, Cluster 1600, RS/6000 SP


305, 306, 335, 343, 345, 360, 365, 382

205, 206, 225, 235, 2552

High-Performance Scalable:
4453, 450, 4554
990, 900, 800 5
Price Range6Small to Medium: $24,281 to 349,515
Medium to Large: $574,224 to $2 million
Entry:: $5,095 to $15,820
Midrange: $26,895 and up
High-End: Contact IBM
Rack-optimized: $1,129 to $9,999
Tower: $499 to $4599
High-Performance scalable: Contact IBM
z890: Starts at less than $200,000
Others: Contact IBM
1The i5 520 and the i5 570 are part of the iSeries line despite the slightly different nomenclature.
2Five pSeries models have been retired from market since October 2003: the 610 6C1 and 6E1, the 640 B80, and the RS/6000 43P and 44P.3The xSeries line also includes the BladeCenter product family: HS20, a 2-way Intel blade, HS40, a 4-way Intel blade, JS20, a 2-way PowerPC 970 blade, the BladeCenter (Chassis), and the BladeCenter T (Telecom Chassis); a variety of storage products and telecommunications servers, and the IBM Cluster 1350. IBM's Opteron offering, the eServer 325, is also officially sold out of its xSeries line.
4 The 445 replaces the 440.
5 The zSeries line also includes the S/390 G5/G6 and S/390 Multiprise, which are no longer sold but are still supported.
6 Based on IBM's posted prices.

>> Line by Line

POWERful Regrouping: "From a server standpoint, IBM will continue to focus on all of its product lines," Cal Braunstein, CEO/executive director of research for the Robert Frances Group told ServerWatch. "However, over time these lines are basically coming together." Since the late January merger of Big Blue's Server and Technology groups, POWER has taken center stage as the linchpin.

But POWER's hegemony isn't a done deal. "It's still quite speculative whether IBM can seriously take on Intel outside of game consoles and forms of nontraditional computing," Illuminata senior analyst Gordon Haff notes, "but the migration of the computing mainstream from 32-bit to 64-bit certainly provides an opportunity."

Haff sees the xSeries and pSeries as IBM's bread and butter systems, with the zSeries performing surprisingly well, and iSeries revenue growing weaker. "The merging of the iSeries and pSeries platforms should help there," he said. Year-over-year 2003 IBM financial statements support Haff's assessment: xSeries revenue grew 16.2, and pSeries revenue grew 12 percent. The zSeries and iSeries lines saw more moderate growth, with gains of 7.4 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively. When viewed as a single entity, the iSeries and pSeries lines would likely bump sales for the POWER pSeries above Intel xSeries sales.

iSeries Takes Off: On May 4, the iSeries spawned Big Blue's first POWER5-based servers: the eServer i5 520 (a 2-way system) and i5 570 (a 4-way system). POWER5 brings the virtualization technology pioneered in the zSeries to scale-out country. In addition, the POWER5 servers scheduled to be added to the pSeries line later this year will be identical to the new i5s -- from a hardware perspective.

The lines will continue to differ at the software level. Jarman likens the new i5s to jets an airline might purchase, "there are airlines that want to buy passenger jets, and they want a fully integrated package. That includes having the seats and the carpets; they want galleys; they want toilets." Similarly, the i5 operating system (the V5 R3 release of the OS formerly known as OS/400) bundles accoutrements like WebSphere Express and a microcode-level JVM, while other partitions run Windows, Linux, or AIX.

New pSeries POWER5 servers will be like cargo planes for customers who say, "I want the same 747, same wings, same engine, but just give me the bare bones," Jarman said.

pSeries Delivers: Karl Freund, vice president of pSeries product marketing for IBM, sees Big Blue's seven straight quarters sales growth in a flat Unix market as a proof-point that IBM's POWER strategy is on the mark. Seven years ago, Freund says, Sun and HP de-emphasized their microprocessor design focus, while IBM set its sights on POWER. "Now we're starting to see the benefits as the market comes to us," Freund said. IBM's new Migration Factory helps move the market along; it shoulders Sun/HP migration costs to help customers to "really save some money and realize the value of pSeries very quickly in their computing environment."

In the first quarter of 2004, the 32-way pSeries 690 got a 1.9 GHz POWER4+ option, while the 4- and 8-way pSeries 655s added 1.70 GHz POWER4+. IBM's high performance computing focused Linux 2-way PowerPC-970 eServer JS20 blades started shipping in April, and AIX-based JS20s are out due this summer. AIX 5.3, which is scheduled to go into beta later this month, will feature subprocessor partitioning pioneered in IBM's zSeries group.

xSeries Expands: In the past year, IBM has quietly populated its xSeries with 64-bit alternatives to POWER. It introduced the Opteron-based eServer 325 in July 2003 and released a 2-way Itanium server, the xSeries 455 in November. Tower and rack systems that incorporate Intel's 64-bit Xeon additions are expected to ship this summer. With so many 64-bit alternatives in the pipeline, it seems logical to wonder how much faith IBM has in its own POWER.

IBM does not see a conflict of interest here. Leo Suarez, IBM vice president, eServer, xSeries and Workstations told ServerWatch, "the whole point of IBM eServers is customer choice." Windows/Intel customers and the "good enough technology" camp will choose xSeries, he said, while those wanting a "very robust, best-of-breed type of Linux" will turn to the pSeries.

Last October, IBM began boosting its xSeries 205/305 offerings to 206/306, adding an 800 MHz front-side bus. It bolstered its xSeries 365 4-way Xeon rack server with faster Ethernet and more drive bays. This boosted sales, Suarez said. In January, Big Blue unveiled its slim 4-way Xeon eServer HS40 blade, and in March it released the BladeCenter T, a ruggedized blade chassis optimized for telecom use.

zSeries Evolves: "It's hard to kill a T-Rex," laughed Colette Martin, program director, zSeries product marketing and initiative management.

Despite several name changes and strategy shifts, zSeries descends from the oldest flavor of the firm's current four lines. Having just celebrated the zSeries' 40th anniversary in April, it shows no sign of being phased out. "What's really more important to us is where we go from here, for the next 40 years," Martin said

This dinosaur has survived as long as it has by adapting and continuing to innovate. For example, the flagship zSeries, the 990, starts running at 500 MIPS. The new z890, which will ship at the end of May, lowers the entry level for mainframes to 26 MIPS and a price just under $200,000. As a key component in IBM's On-Demand strategy, zSeries machines are infused with extra processors that enterprises can turn on, literally, on demand. This May, the z990 and z890 will ship with the new zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP), a specialized hardware Java Virtual Machine for zSeries' proprietary zOS. zAAP joins the zSeries Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL), another specialty processor.

But like the technology driving iSeries servers, zSeries technology has been finding its way into other series. The Virtualization Engine, now in preview, is one example of how IBM is ensuring zSeries technology will benefit other species, even if T-Rex goes extinct.

Such a move exemplifies how IBM's offerings complement each other where they were once disparate and are pushing Gerstner's vision to big success.

This article was originally published on Tuesday May 18th 2004
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