Hardware Today: IBM Server Snapshot

by Drew Robb

In an effort to meet desired utilization rates and consolidation concerns, IBM's latest additions to its eServer product family are POWER5-based offerings sporting Virtualization Engine technology.

The past year was a big one for IBM servers. The company completed a major overhaul of the four server lines that fall under its eServer moniker: iSeries midrange servers targeted at the SMB and departmental markets; the pSeries Unix-based servers aimed at the data center market; the Intel-based xSeries servers; and the mainframe-class zSeries servers. It also brought a new addition to the mix, the OpenPower range of Linux servers.

The primary improvements to the eServer offerings involve the introduction of the POWER5 processor (p5) and the IBM Virtualization Engine. The success of these changes is demonstrated in the numbers. According to IDC, in 2004, IBM cemented its position as the No. 1 server vendor worldwide, with a 31.7 percent market share.

Recent Server Snapshots
HPC Market

"The trend now is to standardize and rationalize IT operations in order to get more bang out of the bucks already spent and the bucks that will be spent in the future," said Dan Olds, principal of Gabriel Consulting Group. "IBM is responding to this trend correctly by building mechanisms that allow customers to more easily manage a greater number of applications running on a smaller number of systems with fewer people."

This appears to be part of a major shift in emphasis from server technology to server economics. Until fairly recently, servers were sold primarily on the basis of speed and overall performance. Application developers used the extra juice to eke more mileage out of their software, and enterprises had to buy the latest boxes to stay current. Today, few applications struggle on modern large-scale systems. Hence, performance as the key to server sales is rapidly losing relevance. In its place is growing concern with utilization rates and consolidation. And that's where IBM is going with the pairing of p5 and Virtualization Engine.

The chart below provides an overview of IBM's eServer products.

IBM's eServer Offerings at a Glance
Server LineiSeriespSeriesxSerieszSeriesOpenPower
DescriptionMidrange serversUnix serversIntel processor-based serversMainframe-class serversServers tuned for Linux
Target DeploymentSMBs and enterprise departmentsData centers of all sizesScale-up and scale-out x86 usersLarge and midsize enterprises running mission-critical applicationsSMBs and budget-conscious enterprises
Processor TypePOWER4, POWER5POWER4, POWER5, JS20: PowerPC 970P4, Xeon, Itanium-216-chip IBM Multichip Module (MCM) Multiple-channel subsystem (MCSS) allows logical partitions (LPARs) which can run different operating systemsPOWER5
Processor RangeSmall to Medium: 1- to 2-way; Medium to Large: 6- to 64-wayEntry: 1- to 4-way; Midrange: 2- to 16-way; High-End: 32- to 64-wayRack-Optimized: 1- to 4-way; Tower: 1- to 4-way; High-Performance scalable: 4- to 16-way2 to 4 logical channel subsystemsRackmount or desk-side 1- to 4-way
Operating Systems i5 (V5R3), OS/400 V5R2, Windows, Linux, AIX-5LAIX-5L, LinuxWindows, Linux, AIX, MVS, all x86-compatible operating systemsz/OS, z/OS.e, OS/390, Linux on zSeries, z/VM, TPF, VSE/ESALinux
Servers Small to Medium:
Medium to Large:
i5 520
i5 570
i5 595 1
615 6C3
630 6C4
615 6E3
630 6E4
p5 520
p5 550 2
Cluster 1600
RS/6000 SP
p5 570
p5 590
p5 595
High Performance Computing:
Commercial Blue Gene 7
High-Performance Scalable:
445 3
455 4
800 5
Price Range 6 Small to Medium: Starts at $24,281 Medium to Large: Starts at $574,224 Entry: Starts at $3,967 Midrange: Starts at $24,927 High-End: Contact IBM Rack-optimized: Starts at $1,159 Tower: Starts at $499 High-Performance scalable: Contact IBM z890: Starts at less than $200,000 Others: Contact IBM710: Starts at $4,713.00 720: Starts at $ 5,000

1 New i5 systems are part of the iSeries line despite the slightly different nomenclature. Because it is an integrated system, all iSeries prices include operating system and database, IBM i5/OS, and IBM DB2 UDB.
2 New p5 systems are part of the pSeries line despite the slightly different nomenclature. The pSeries line also includes a JS20, 2-way PowerPC 970 BladeCenter system.
3 The xSeries line includes the BladeCenter product family: HS20, a 2-way Intel blade, HS40, a 4-way Intel blade, and the BladeCenter T (Telecom Chassis), as well as 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.
7 Commercial Blue Gene runs PowerPC 970 processors and is 5.7 teraflops. Contact IBM for pricing.

>> POWER and Virtualization

POWER to the People

Since the announcement of the p5 last May, IBM has steadily expanded its deployment across its server lines. This processor can now be found in three of its major server product lines: iSeries, pSeries, and OpenPower Linux servers. These servers range from simple 1-way architectures through 64-way.

"As the pSeries scales from 1-way to 64-way, customers can use the same applications over the same processor," said Ian Jarman, iSeries product manager at IBM. "Intel, on the other hand, has a 32-bit chip for 1- to 4-way, and the Itanium 64-bit processor to satisfy the high end of the enterprise."

Jarman notes that IBM has added more substance to its on-demand vision by making it possible for iSeries customers to purchase products with additional processors and other elements built in. A key is used to activate more resources as needed, either for a limited period of time or permanently.

One thing to keep in mind is that although p5 may give the company an edge on performance for the moment, the technology to keep an eye on in the long term is Virtualization Engine.

Although performance may not be a pivotal factor in determining chip dominance in the long term, it doesn't hurt that IBM seems to have gotten a jump on its competitors.

"IBM has pushed the rest of the industry by introducing the p5 before the p4 had run out of steam," said Olds. "This processor gives them a clear performance advantage that the rest of the industry players will have a hard time matching."

Virtualization Engine

The Virtualization Engine is software embedded into IBM POWER5-based servers. It brings mainframe virtualization to the Unix server world so these machines can be partitioned into multiple virtual servers per processor. The idea is to increase utilization rates from the 5 percent to 25 percent range commonly found among commodity servers to 80 percent or more.

"Virtualization is the next stage of the server consolidation trend that began in the late '90s," said Jarman. "We have extended virtualization across all our servers in order to reduce cost, optimize IT resource utilization and simplify IT."

Jarman explains it as the combination of technologies and services. Virtualization Engine technologies add micro-partitioning, which allows customers to run several Unix and Linux servers on one system. Enterprises can partition up to 10 services per processor. In addition, the IBM Director Multiplatform offers a single point of control (i.e., one person can manage multiple environments from a single console). This includes workload management and provisioning tools based IBM Tivoli Provisioning Manager, as well as grid capabilities based on Open Grid Services Architecture and WebSphere.

"IBM's virtualization technology allows customers to manage multiple systems from a single point, to view compute capacity as a single pool of resource, and to automatically manage that capacity to achieve business goals," said Olds.

Customers are harnessing these micro-partitioning capabilities to run multiple operating systems. Some, says Jarman, are running the IBM i5 operating system alongside Linux, AIX, and Windows on the same machine. Others are running their core business applications on i5 and other applications on AIX. This enables better utilization and allows IT departments to consolidate multiple servers into a single system.

He describes this as breakthrough technology for Unix, and Olds agrees.

"IBM should be able to overtake HP or Sun to become the No. 2 vendor in the Unix market in the near future," he said, "with a real chance of becoming No. 1 over time if they continue executing at the same level as they are now."

Taking It Easy

After a hectic 2004, don't look for IBM to continue eServer development at a breakneck pace. Instead, look for Big Blue to extend its range of PEEWEE systems into more and larger configurations throughout 2005. "We will continue to build on the success of Power 5 but have no short term plans for dramatic changes," said Jarman.

IBM will be focusing on marketing and selling what it believes to be a superior range of server products ranging from blades to mainframes. As such, it is ready for a major push in all segments. The iSeries will continue to make inroads in the midrange arena, the pSeries is on the offensive in the Unix space, the xSeries hopes to make a major dent in Intel's empire, and OpenPower is gaining strength in the Linux marketplace.

One thing to keep in mind is that although p5 may give the company an edge on performance for the moment, the technology to keep an eye on in the long term is Virtualization Engine.

"This technology will allow customers to move average system utilization from 10 percent to 20 percent up to 60 percent to 75 percent, which will have a huge impact on costs," said Olds. "I believe that server virtualization is the battlefield on which the new server wars will be fought."

This article was originally published on Tuesday Feb 8th 2005
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