IBM Power Systems Get Power Processor, Virtualization Makeover to Compete Against HP, Sun

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-10-07

IBM Power Systems Get Power Processor, Virtualization Makeover to Compete Against HP, Sun

IBM is looking to widen its offering for the Unix market with new Power Systems that support more processing cores based on IBM's Power Architecture as well as new management and virtualization features.

IBM Power Systems were introduced in April as a new set of offerings that combined the older IBM Systems i and System p under one product portfolio. The combination of these two systems gave IBM a set of offerings for enterprises and midmarket companies that not only can run AIX-IBM's version of Unix-but also Linux and the i OS-the renamed version of the i5/OS operating system.

While the overall Unix market pales in comparison to servers based on x86 processors, this market remains important for three major OEMs: IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems. According to Gartner, while shipments of Unix-based servers fell in the second quarter of 2008, worldwide revenue increased nearly 10 percent year over year to about $4.2 billion for the quarter. Not surprisingly, IBM, which has been pushing its Unix platforms beyond the enterprise into the midmarket and even the small and midsize business, saw its revenue increase 29 percent in the second quarter for a total of $1.5 billion.

By combining the two systems into one product portfolio, IBM is looking to further strengthen its position in the Unix market. It was also a way to absorb some losses for IBM, which had seen its System i revenue slip in 2007, while System p continued to grow.

At the same time, Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said IBM is trying to sell its Power Systems as a consolidation platform to small and midmarket businesses that want to combine all of their x86 servers onto one system. While those businesses using Linux might see this as a benefit, it could be hard to persuade those companies standardized on Microsoft Windows to switch to Linux and then move over onto an IBM Power System platform.

"For a small customer, a big benefit might be that they can run a database application and have a bit more performance and reliability with a Power System than they can with a Windows-based system," said King.

IBM is also looking to pick up Sun and HP customers that might want to move off of older systems, said King. HP has its Integrity Systems that use Intel's Itanium processors, while Sun, which has been struggling selling its high-end servers, offers its SPARC-based products and Solaris operating system.

IBM Adds Midrange Server


Within the Power Systems portfolio, IBM added in a new server on Oct. 7 called the Power 560 Express, which is a midrange system that sits between the Power 570 and Power 550 servers. The IBM Power 560 uses IBM's Power6 (3.6GHz) processors, and the company offers configurations that allow for up to 16 processing cores within the box. The system also scales from 8GB of DDR2 (double data rate 2) RAM to 384GB. Since each Power 560 is made up of two nodes, each node supports six SAS (serial-attached SCSI) drives that offer 2.7TB of data storage.

IBM also revamped the configurations of the Power 570 server. This system now can support 16 Power6 processing cores with the chips running at 5.0GHz or 32 Power6 cores with the chip running at 4.2GHz. At maximum configurations, the Power 570 supports up to 768GB of DDR2 RAM and 24 SAS drives.

IBM listed the starting price of the Power 560 Express with the AIX operating system at $47,216. There was no pricing information for the updated version of the Power 570.

In addition to the new hardware, IBM also rolled out several management and virtualization features of its Power Systems. These include an update for IBM's PowerVM-the company's virtualization software for Power Systems-called Active Memory Sharing. While only in beta now, Active Memory Sharing allows the system to access more memory in virtual environments by pooling compute resources between the partitions.

IBM is also offering a new management console called Systems Directory. This management tool works across all three operating systems-Linux, i, and AIX-and allows IT managers to control and check the resources both in the physical hardware and within virtual environments.

Finally, IBM is rolling out an Enterprise version of the AIX operating system, which includes the OS itself plus Tivoli and PowerVM software.


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