IBM Launches Expandable 8-Way Server

IBM Corp. took a major step toward broadening the choices for customers interested in greater-than-eight-processor Windows servers.

IBM on Wednesday rolled out the eight-processor version in its Enterprise X-Architecture (EXA) line, called the IBM eServer x440. The x440 is IBM's second server in the EXA line after the four-way IBM eServer x360 launched late last year. The next piece in the EXA lineup, set to come in July, will be a 16-way system.

Unisys Corp. currently offers the only greater-than-eight-processor server in the Windows-Intel market. Its 32-processor ES7000 server has held that distinction since it was introduced in 1999. Nor is Unisys standing still. The company refreshed its line this week with a new model called the ES7000/200, which supports the new Intel Xeon MP (for multiprocessing) chips.

Like the Unisys ES7000/200, IBM's new x440 also sports the new Intel Xeon MPs. Other broad similarities of the two systems are support for partitions, large memory support and their target customers.

"We think this is going to be a database server and also a great consolidation play," says Jay Bretzmann, manager of high-performance product marketing at IBM.

Large scale database servers using all 16 processors of IBM's forthcoming system would run Windows Datacenter Server. For consolidation scenarios, IBM is supporting Linux and Windows.

With EXA, IBM is introducing several concepts and technologies to the high-end Windows server space.

One is a relatively low cost of entry. Unisys charges $100,000 for an entry-level ES7000, but IBM will offer a 2-way x440 for $18,000. Realistically, IBM doesn't expect many customers to buy the system with fewer than four processors, Bretzmann says.

The modular design of the EXA line allows customers to build out the entire infrastructure as they grow, rather than paying up front for a large chassis and I/O infrastructure, IBM's argument goes.

Part of that modular design is a proprietary scalability port that is used to gang together two eight-processor EXA servers into one functional 16-processor system. That is the piece that won't be available until July. IBM has also created an external I/O unit that connects to the system to provide more I/O slots.

All of the pieces are rack-mountable and dense. The eight-way x440 fits into 4U of rack space. IBM compares that to the refrigerator-sized ES7000, which Unisys markets as a Wintel mainframe and is similar in its dimensions to an IBM zSeries.

IBM is also providing for memory redundancy in the form of memory mirroring between DIMMS. The procedure means that usable memory is halved from the system capacity of 16 GB per four-processor board.

IBM is doing some things in a similar way to how Unisys does them. The systems are internally expandable by adding bricks of four processors.

The IBM system will run 32-bit or 64-bit processors. The choice must be made at the factory, however. Unisys systems are field upgradeable from 32-bit to 64-bit.

IBM is promising more granular partitioning. Currently both companies permit partitioning at the board level, allowing a separate operating system partition for every four processors. Unisys has the advantage there with a capacity for eight partitions, while IBM's current offering tops out at two partitions.

However, IBM is working with VMWare to allow for granular partitioning down to the processor level and below. Bretzmann says that VMWare’s virtual partitions make a compelling case for using x440 as a consolidation platform. Multiple file-and-print or other irregularly used servers can be moved onto a single server, reducing hardware and support costs. “It gives back capacity you’ve already bought,” he says.

Christopher McConnell of Enterprise Systems contributed to this report.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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