IBM disclosed yesterday that it is poised to release a new four-processor Intel-based server, code-named Crusade, that will feature performance-enhancing technologies drawn from the companys high-end mainframe systems.
The new hardware and software features integrated into the upcoming xSeries server are part of what IBM calls its Enterprise X-Architecture, previously known by the code name Summit.
Enterprise X-Architecture will not only squeeze the most performance out of Intel Corp. chips, IBM executives said, but it will also give IBM servers an edge over competitors offering systems using the same chips.
"Just like a good coach can bring out the best in an athlete, we believe we can bring out the best performance in Intel processors," said Tom Bradicich, director of server architecture and technology for IBMs server group.
IBM revealed its upcoming server plans in briefings at a hotel in Las Vegas, where many of the companys customers and industry reporters are attending Comdex.
The new server will be based on an upcoming Xeon processor, code-named Foster, that is touted as offering as much as a 50 percent performance boost over current Xeon products. While Intel is scheduled to release it early next year, IBM is hoping to convince the chip maker to release the chip sooner. "As soon as the chips are ready, were ready to roll," said Brendan Paget, IBMs worldwide product marketing manager for the companys Intel-based xSeries line of servers. "Wed really like to see it come out as soon as possible."
The Enterprise X-Architecture is designed to enable customers to "build as they go," IBM executives said, by enabling users to integrate up to four individual four-way servers together into a 16-way system by using new high-speed scalability ports.
That ease of scalability, Paget said, is based on much of the same reasoning that fueled the rapid growth of thin rack-mounted servers in recent years. Scalable systems enable customers to spend less upfront and add performance capability as their needs grow.
While Unix servers also offer the ability to scale up, he said, customers are required to pay for that capability upfront.
"People buying Unix systems often buy a 16-way Unix server and only equip them four processors at first," Paget said. "To have the flexibility to grow, they had to pay for a larger system even though they didnt need it. With this design, you pay as you go."
Among the other new capabilities of the Enterprise X-Architecture are the following:
- Remote I/O capabilities that enable I/O slots to be placed up to 8 meters away
- An added Level 4 cache of up to 64MB to improve processor performance;
- Support for both Microsoft and Linux operating systems;
- Physical partitioning that allows each node to run its own combination of operating systems and applications for easy hardware consolidation and software migration; and
- Hot-swappable, hot-add memory.
In addition, IBM will equip the server with new applications and tools designed to improve system management. Among the features are some of the self-diagnosing and self-healing technologies designed as part of the companys eLiza program with the aim of assuring 24-by-7 system stability.
"All these things benefit the customers by assuring more uptime, better scalability to grow the system as their needs grow and better performance," Paget said.
"Many of these things are not new to mainframes," Bradicich said, "but whats new is their application in the Intel high-volume space."
Competing against itself
But by boosting the capabilities of its Intel-based servers, IBM admittedly faces the potential problem of creating new competition for its own low-end mainframe systems featuring the companys own proprietary RISC-based processors.
While acknowledging that Intel-based servers are moving ever higher into domains once dominated by Unix servers, Bradicich rejected the notion that Intel servers will soon eclipse those systems.
"The requirements arent static; its not that Intels moving up and Unix is not. Both technologies are advancing," he said. "Now while you can debate which may be moving up faster, the point is that the performance of those other systems are increasing as well."
IBM executives also stressed that the Enterprise X-Architecture is not only geared at 32-bit Xeon processors, but is designed to work with Intels 64-bit Itanium processors, in particular the second-generation chip, code-named McKinley, thats due to be released next year.
Since about 80 percent of the core chip sets on the 32-bit and 64-bit platforms will be the same, Bradicich said, IBM will have an edge over competitors in offering new McKinley-based system on a platform that already has been "battle tested."
"Granted, its a subtle edge," he said. "But in this business, any edge is important."