Hardware Today: IBM Server Snapshot

Tuesday Jul 25th 2006 by Drew Robb

What's in, what's out? From name changes to new processors, the changes throughout IBM's server portfolio have been plentiful in the past year.

Today, IBM sits pretty as the worldwide server market leader based on revenue. But that doesn't mean all is entirely rosy at Big Blue. According to Gartner's latest numbers, revenues decreased 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2006 compared to the first quarter of the previous year. The systems vendor actually recorded income drops in its iSeries, pSeries, and zSeries eServer product lines, although the x86-based server product lines (xSeries and BladeCenter) outperformed the market, growing 11 percent.

"The blade segment of the market displayed strong growth again," says Jeffrey Hewitt, an analyst at Gartner. "IBM holds the leading market position in blade servers in volume and revenue terms."

To stay market leader, IBM has shaken up its server line organization and introduced many new product (as well as end-of-lifing) quite a few models.

Recent Server Snapshots

"As part of IBM's systems agenda, you have seen the server lines re-emerge as System x, System p, System I, System z and BladeCenter," says Tim Dougherty, IBM director of blade strategy.

This has been more than a mere renaming ceremony, however. Yes, the xSeries is now known as System x, and so on. But the OpenPower line of servers tuned for Linux has been absorbed completely by the other categories, and there are plenty of other changes, as illustrated in the "IBM Servers, At a Glance " table that follows this article.

System i

In January 2006, IBM unveiled the System i line, which is aimed at small and midsize businesses. Its mission is to mask the complexity of IT operations. It uses the POWER5+, a dual-core chip that runs at up to 2.2 GHz (a 33 percent increase in performance compared to the previous POWER5-based System i models).

A new option for Windows management enables BladeCenter to integrate with System i through an iSCSI connection. This allows customers to use the virtual storage, networking, and tape resources of System i to simplify Windows server management. Additionally, the System i 520 Solution Edition for Oracle's JD Edwards EnterpriseOne has been released to compete with Windows-based systems, like Dell PowerEdge.

"At the same time, we also introduced a new version of our integrated operating system, i5/OS V5R4," says Elaine Lennox, vice president of System i marketing. "This offers customers greater flexibility to run Linux, AIX 5L, and Microsoft Windows applications on the same system."

System p

Since the last server snapshot, IBM introduced 11 new p models. These include eight System p5 servers, three of which use a 4-core processor module, known as the POWER5+ Quad Core Module (QCM). They range from 2U form factors with up to four cores, to an 8U model with 16 cores.

"The IBM System p5 570 is the first of any 16-core system to deliver more than 1 million transactions per minute," says Karl Freund, vice president of System p at IBM. "The IBM System p5 575 server is equipped with 16-core and 8-core capabilities."

The 16-core p575 version is available with 100 GFLOPS/node for computationally demanding applications and up to 256 GB of memory, with less than 200 GBps memory bandwidth. It offers just under 1 TeraFLOP per footprint. The 8-core has just under 25 GBps of memory per processor.

System x

On the System x front, IBM released several new models:

  • Rack-optimized — x306m, x326m, x3550, x3650, x3650 T, x3850 (formerly the x366)
  • Tower — x100, x206m, x3400, x3500, x3800 (formerly the x260)
  • High-Performance — the x3950 (formerly the x460) and the IBM Cluster 1600

It's also the end of the road for the x260, x460, and x366. They were replaced by the x3800, x3950, and x3850, respectively.

"Across our entire x86 line, you will see a continued focus on technology and innovation that lowers power and cooling related costs within the data center," says Alex Yost, director, IBM System x.

Further additions include 'Cool Blue,' a technology component that uses the existing chilled water supply for air conditioning systems to reduce server heat emissions by up to 55 percent, and PowerExecutive, a software solution used to better manage power consumption across a datacenter's entire infrastructure.


As noted in the Gartner figures above, IBM is gaining the most ground in the BladeCenter arena. And there are plenty of changes here, too.

The BladeCenter JS20 has been replaced by the next-generation JS21. The dual-core Intel Xeon-based BladeCenter HS21 recently joined this dual-core POWER-based blade. A low-power version, the HS20, is also available.

"Our BladeCenter business has been booming in 2006," says Dougherty. "Our latest chassis, BladeCenter H, is compatible with existing BladeCenter systems, and delivers more than 40 Gb of I/O bandwidth to every blade server."

Further, Big Blue has been instrumental in the formation of Blade.org, a collaborative organization and developer community focused on accelerating the expansion of blade solutions within the IBM and Intel blade perimeter. Although only four months old, it already claims 75 members, and IBM clearly has big plans.

"IBM expects the BladeCenter ecosystem around Blade.org to continue to explode, with new partners, products, and solutions coming to market throughout the year," says Dougherty. "Look for additional in-a-box solutions, expanding upon our retail, banking, small business, and security product portfolio."

System z

Since our previous snapshot, IBM discontinued the z800 and z900 mainframes. All the attention now goes to newer models, such as the System z9 Business Class (z9 BC) and the System z9 Enterprise Class (z9 EC). The company also released FICON Express 4 for System z9 (both z9 EC and z9 BC). This is designed to improve I/O capacity and performance with 4 Gbps FICON and Fibre Channel.

"System z9 is one of the most sophisticated computing systems ever with built in tools for security and virtualization," says Randy Daniel, director, IBM System z. "These new systems support the z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP), a specialty processor designed to enable businesses to more easily centralize back-end workloads."

The z9 Business Class is a mainframe aimed at small to medium enterprises. Incorporating all of the features of the more heavy duty System z9 EC, it features 73 capacity settings. Entry models are priced from around $100,000.

To make sure its massive investment in mainframe systems isn't squelched by a lack of programmers, IBM has launched a series of initiatives to facilitate more training at college level.

"We have developed university courseware and a global, 'Master the Mainframe student contest to reach the next generation of mainframe developers," says Daniel. "The future is dependent on mainframe professionals, so building our academic initiative will be central to our mission as well as working with our partners to enhance and extend our application portfolio."


As for the future, it is almost impossible to get more than vague generalities from IBM with regard to its development pipeline. Suffice to say, more servers are coming soon. Look out, in particular, for some upgrades to the System p line.

"IBM is planning to launch high-end Power5+ Unix-based servers," says Freund.

IBM Servers, At a Glance

System i
System p
System x
BladeCenter and BladeCenter T
(Telecom Chassis)
System z1
DescriptionMidrange serversUnix serversIntel, AMD processor-based serversIntel, AMD and PowerPC-based serversMainframe-class servers
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 applications
Processor TypePOWER4, POWER5, and POWER5+POWER4, POWER5, and POWER5+Xeon and OpteronOpteron, Xeon, and IBM PowerPC16-chip IBM Multichip Module (MCM)
Multiple-channel subsystem (MCSS) enable 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, and 32- to 64-way
Entry: 1- 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-based and 4-way Intel-based servers2 to 4 logical channel subsystems
z9 scales from 1- to 54-way
Operating Systemsi5 V5R4, Windows, Linux, and AIX-5LAIX-5L and LinuxWindows and LinuxWindows, Linux, and AIX-5Lz/OS, z/OS.e, OS/390, Linux on zSeries, z/VM, TPF, VSE/ESA, zVSE, and zTPF
ServersSmall to Medium:
i5 520
i5 520 express
Medium to Large:
i5 550
i5 570
i5 595
p5 185 Express
p5 505 Express
p5 510 Express
p5 510Q Express
p5 520 Express
p5 520Q Express
p5 550 Express
p5 550Q Express
p5 560Q Express
Cluster 1600
RS/6000 SP
p5 570
p5 575
p5 590
p5 595
High Performance Computing:
Commercial Blue Gene3
3650 T
High-Performance Scalable:
High-Performance Cluster:
Cluster 1350
Cluster 1600
HS20 (ultra low power)
System z9 Business Class (z9BC)
System z9 Enterprise Class (z9EC)
Price Range2Small to Medium: The starting price for the System i5 520 Express is $11,995
Medium to Large: The starting price for the i5 570 Standard Edition is $71,000
Entry: Starts at $2,995
Midrange: Starts at $38,641
High-End: Contact IBM
Rack-optimized: Starts at $1,129
Tower: Starts at $559
High-Performance Scalable: Contact IBM
HS20: starts at $1,838 (economy)
HS20ult: Starts at $1,749
JS20: Starts at $2,399
JS21: Starts at $2,499
LS20: Starts at $2,699
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 Gene runs PowerPC 970 processors and is 5.7 teraflops. Contact IBM for pricing.
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