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IBM Shipping 16-Way in Volume

IBM Corp. on Wednesday said that it is shipping 16-processor Xeon MP-based servers in volume. The servers, which are five months behind schedule, broaden the options for customers who are looking to run powerful Windows-based systems with more than eight processors for server consolidation or large database projects.

The 16-way system is the largest configuration of IBM's eServer xSeries 440 system. The modular systems come in four-processor units which can be linked via proprietary interconnects to create larger and larger systems. IBM began offering a four-way version about a year ago and expanded x440 support to eight way systems in March. IBM also offers an entry level version populated with just two processors. IBM's differentiator is a pay-as-you-grow approach.

The systems start at $81,332, a price that includes 16 Xeon MP processors, 8 GB of RAM and two 18 GB drives but does not include an operating system. Fully configured, the system takes up a relatively slender 8U of rack space.

IBM positions the server, which can run Windows or Linux, as competitive against Sun Microsystems low-end and mid-range machines. But Big Blue also took potshots at Windows server competitors Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Unisys in its announcement Wednesday.

"While Dell and HP have yet to deliver for general availability eight-way machines based on the latest Intel Xeon processor MP, IBM continues to drive innovation in industry-standard servers with mainframe-inspired 16-processor systems that are designed to provide outstanding database performance for enterprise customers," said Deepak Advani, IBM vice president for the xSeries.

Neither HP nor Dell have been able to ship eight-processor servers based on the Intel Xeon MP processor yet because they don't have a chipset ready. The gap has allowed IBM to take over the market share lead in eight-processor servers in the most recently completed financial quarter, according to research from analysts at IDC.

HP has published a benchmark for an eight-processor Xeon MP-based system and plans to ship the server in the first quarter. In a statement released Wednesday to respond to IBM's announcement, HP downplayed the significance of the market for the 32-bit systems with more than eight processors.

"HP strongly believes that beyond eight processors, for customers to achieve price and performance scalability, servers require Itanium technology," said James Mouton of HP Industry Standard Servers. "HP has no intention of producing Xeon-based servers over eight processors, specifically 16-ways."

HP previously disclosed plans to offer the 64-bit version of Windows .NET Server 2003, Datacenter Edition, on 64-processor Superdome servers running the next version of the Itanium processor sometime in 2003.

Unisys has offered 32-processor systems based on standard Intel 32-bit processors for several years now, although sales volume has been in the hundreds of units. Until IBM grew its x440 to 16 processors, Unisys was the only vendor with a 32-bit Intel server larger than eight processors. Against Unisys, IBM brings the size argument, comparing its 8U of rack size to the Unisys ES7000's 40U.

Unisys vice president of server programs Mark Feverston countered on Wednesday that IBM's decision not to publish scalability benchmarks with the announcement.

"Although IBM is touting the 16-way scalability of its x440, the lack of performance numbers and the fact that they are shipping with the outdated Foster chip makes us suspicious. Unisys is still the only 'major server vendor' to offer a scalable Intel-based server -- up to 32-processors-- in a single image," Feverston said.

Although IBM didn't publish a benchmark with the 16-processor system, it also waited several months to publish a benchmark when it expanded the x440 to eight processors. Those results prompted Giga Information Group analyst Brad Day to release a report praising the linear scalability of the system.

About the Author

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

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