Hardware Today: IBM Server Snapshot

by Drew Robb

IBM may be No. 1, but it's not content to rest on its laurels. From blades to its mainframes, big changes are afoot.

IBM would seem to have it made. The server vendor is No. 1 worldwide in revenue according to IDC, with six distinct product lines and a steady stream of new releases. According to the research firm, IBM is tops in Unix server revenue (a 31 percent share) and blade servers (a 40.9 percent share), and No. 2 in Linux servers (a 20.3 percent share). Factor in its near monopoly in mainframes and consistent sales in Intel-based servers, and it's difficult to see any vendor posing a threat to IBM any time soon.

Recent Server Snapshots
HPC Market

"IBM maintains the No. 1 spot in the worldwide server systems market with 31.9 percent market share in factory revenue, growing its revenue by 4.1 percent when compared to the second quarter of 2004," says IDC's Jean Bozman.

IBM has been comparatively quiet in recent months as far as its iSeries (midrange servers), pSeries (Unix servers), and OpenPower (Linux) lines. The big noise has come from the zSeries (mainframe) and xSeries (Intel- and AMD-based servers) lines.

Before we take a close look at changes that have occurred in the xSeries and zSeries lines, we offer a panoramic view of all six IBM server lines with the following chart.

IBM eServer at a Glance

Server Line
BladeCenter and BladeCenter T (Telecom Chassis)
DescriptionMidrange serversUnix serversIntel- and AMD-based serversIntel-, AMD-, and POWER-based serversMainframe-class serversServers Tuned for Linux
Target DeploymentSMBs and enterprise departmentsData centers of all sizesScale-up and scale-out x86 usersSMB, data centers, high performance, and telecomLarge and midsize enterprises running mission-critical applicationsSMBs and budget-conscious enterprises
Processor TypePOWER4, POWER5POWER4, POWER5, JS20: PowerPC 970P4, Xeon, Itanium-2Opteron, Xeon, POWER16 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; 8- to 16-way, 16- to 32-way, 32- to 64-way
Entry: 2- to 4-way;
Midrange: 2- to 16-way;
High-End: 32- 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 4-way Intel-based servers2 to 4 logical channel subsystems
z9 scales from 1- to 54-way
Rack-mount or deskside 1- to 4-way
Operating Systemsi5 (V5R3), OS/400 V5R2, Windows, Linux, and AIX-5LAIX-5L and LinuxWindows, Linux, AIX, and MVSWindows, Linux, and AIX-5Lz/OS, z/OS.e, OS/390, Linux on zSeries, z/VM, TPF, VSE/ESA, zVSE, and zTPFLinux
ServersSmall to Medium:
i5 5201
Medium to Large:
i5 570
i5 595
615 6C3
630 6C4
615 6E3
630 6E4
p5 5102
p5 520
p5 550
Cluster 1600
RS/6000 SP
p5 570
p5 575
p5 590
p5 595
High Performance Computing:
Commercial Blue Gene3
High-Performance Scalable:
eServer 326
Price Range6Small to Medium: The starting price for the eServer i5 520 Express Edition is 11,9957
Medium to Large: The starting price for the eServer i5 570 1- and 2-way with Standard Edition is $71,0008
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
HS20: starts at $1,669 (economy)
HS40: Starts at $4,999 (economy)
JS20: Starts at $2,259
LS20: Starts at $2,259
z890: Starts at less than $200,000
Others: Contact IBM
710: Starts at $4,713
720: Starts at $5,000

1 New i5 systems are part of the iSeries line despite the slightly different nomenclature.
2 New p5 systems are part of the pSeries line despite the slightly different nomenclature. The pSeries line also includes the JS20, 2-way PowerPC 970 BladeCenter system.
3 Commercial Blue Gene runs PowerPC 970 processors and is 5.7 teraflops. Contact IBM for pricing.
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 The packaged configuration includes 70 GB of disk, 1 GB of memory, and a DVD and tape drive.
8 Does not include prepackaged disk and memory.

>> Strategies for Mainframes and Blades

The Mainframe — Alive and Well

IBM recently released what it is describing as its most sophisticated computing system ever — the IBM System z9 mainframe. According to Colette Martin, director of market management for the IBM System z9, it is the result of a three-year, $1.2 billion development effort involving 5,000 IBM engineers, software developers, and security experts from around the world.

"The z9 more than doubles the capabilities of its predecessor, the z990. This new mainframe is capable of performing 1 billion transactions a day, provides on/off capacity on demand, scales up to 54-way, and has advanced resource virtualization and workload management capabilities." — Colette Martin, director of market management for the IBM System z9

"The z9 more than doubles the capabilities of its predecessor, the z990," says Martin. "This new mainframe is capable of performing 1 billion transactions a day, provides on/off capacity on demand, scales up to 54-way, and has advanced resource virtualization and workload management capabilities."

Security was clearly a major focus in the design. As a result, the z9 comes with an impressive array of high-end security features. Master encryption keys, for example, are stored in a tamper-resistant package that zeroes out data to prevent an intruder from physically capturing it. Centralized key management in the z/OS allows consistent security policies to be set across server, data, and the network according to business goals. Other security features secure data being transported to alternate locations, speed up online transactions while keeping them totally secure, provide easy-to-deploy Internet security for mainframe workloads, and offer network-based security in conjunction with Cisco.

x-Rated Servers

At the opposite end of the scale, IBM has been investing plenty of R&D dollars in xSeries and blade servers. Last week's Hardware Today, "Dueling Blades," looked at the latest BladeCenter offerings.

On the xSeries front, the company recently released the eServer X3 architecture. Tim Dougherty, director of IBM eServer BladeCenter marketing, says this represents the culmination of a three- year, $100 million development effort to bring mainframe-inspired capabilities and high-end technology to 64-bit Intel Xeon-based servers. According to his numbers, this new architecture provides up to 46 percent higher 4-way performance compared to IBM's previous generation of Xeon-based systems. It also enables the simultaneous running of 32-bit and 64-bit applications and the rapid processing of massive amounts of data. X3-based systems can run 64-bit x86 operating system software from Microsoft, Red Hat, and Novell.

"X3 is optimized for superior server consolidation and enterprise application software, and it uses IBM Virtualization Engine technology to enhance virtualization capabilities," says Dougherty.

IBM has also gotten into the dual-core game. The xSeries 366 is the first dual-core-capable Intel-based server from Big Blue. Based on the X3 architecture, the x366 is positioned primarily for midtier business logic applications (like SAP, Oracle, and Siebel) using 64-bit memory addressing.

For users with always-on environments, IBM has released the xSeries 460. The entry-level 4-way machine scales up to 32-way, processing in an eight-chassis configuration. Upgrading from a smaller to larger x460 server, says Dougherty, has been made easy.

The x460 is the second server based on the X3 architecture, and it is 60 percent faster than its predecessor. This Xeon MP system is meant to be used mainly for database serving, ERP, CRM, server consolidation, and vertical market custom applications. It is priced from $18,129, although a typical 8-way model costs more than $72,182.

There is also the newly released x260, a high-performance 7U server aimed at storage-intensive applications (also based on the X3 Architecture). The dual-core-capable x260 relies on 64-bit Intel Xeon MP processors and is available in a tower configuration. The entry price of the xSeries 260 is $4,599.

IBM has made several strategic moves that may further consolidate its grip at the top of the server charts. The company is offering financial incentives of up to $50,000 to partners developing software applications and tools for its iSeries platform.

"The x260 can run on standard 110 volt power in a fully redundant configuration, making it suitable for office environments," says Dougherty. "It has expandable processing power, memory, and storage capacity that is often required for e-mail and database serving applications."

The last major release in the IBM xSeries portfolio is Cluster 1350, the first cluster to incorporate AMD dual-core technology in a blade-based compute node. It also uses Intel- and POWER-based nodes in homogeneous or mixed node arrangements. IBM is clearly planning to use this product to strengthen its position at the head of the blade market.

"In standard cluster configurations, the Cluster 1350 supports more compute nodes than any of its competitors and double that of HP," says Dougherty. It offers the broadest range of node and switch choices in a clustered solution from a major vendor."

Strategic Moves

IBM has made several strategic moves that may further consolidate its grip at the top of the server charts. The company is offering financial incentives of up to $50,000 to partners developing software applications and tools for its iSeries platform.

Big Blue hopes to entice more than 2,500 software developers with: 1) an Application Innovation Program that provides support (this includes a no-charge virtual loaner program, Solution Factory assistance, and education) at no charge to ISVs to help strengthen their iSeries on-demand capabilities; 2) a Tools Innovation Program, which is part of its iSeries Developers Roadmap that gives ISVs and customers additional flexibility with their application choices in Java, RPG, COBOL, and .NET integration on i5/OS, Linux, AIX and Windows; and 3) an iSeries Innovation Program to increase access to IBM technical talent in Rochester to work collaboratively with ISVs and other partners to develop more tightly integrated products for banking, wholesale, retail, manufacturing, and other industries. To date, these programs have produced nearly 180 new applications and about 160 tools for the iSeries platform.

Keeping with the collaboration theme, another core strategic element is IBM's Systems Agenda.

"Companies that were once isolated by disparate technologies increasingly need to collaborate in order to create more on demand operations," says Martin. "This requires that each firm's computing systems be linked more intelligently via collaborative processing."

Systems Agenda involves the use of technologies like virtualization, open standards, and encryption to share information across enterprises. Whether it's designing automobiles and aircraft or discovering new medicines, collaboration between companies and institutions has begun to blur the traditional lines of information technology. IBM's goal is to develop ways to enable such companies to work seamlessly on business applications that transcend corporate boundaries.

"Selected core design principles within the Systems Agenda will accelerate the move toward collaborative processing while continuing to provide the highest levels of transaction processing," says Martin. "This will help our clients to extend virtualization throughout the infrastructure to help define and discover relationships between users, resources, applications, and networks — a key ingredient for collaborative processing."

This article was originally published on Tuesday Sep 27th 2005
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