IBM, Dell Tout Strengths of Their Server Platforms

Dell officials are boasting that Dell got to the market first with servers powered by Intel's Xeon 7500 chips, code-named Nehalem EX, while IBM says more than 200 customers, mostly from HP and Oracle, migrated workloads to IBM systems in the first quarter. HP just refreshed its high-end Integrity server line with Intel's Itanium 9300 processors, code-named Tukwila.

Awaiting the increase in corporate IT spending that is expected come as 2010 moves along, top-tier systems vendors are aggressively pushing their platforms as alternatives to those of their competitors.

Dell and IBM on April 27 both boasted of the positions their high-end offerings hold in the rapidly evolving market. Dell officials noted that the company has already begun shipping PowerEdge servers powered by Intel's recently released four- to eight-core Xeon 7500 "Nehalem EX" processors, ahead of rival Hewlett-Packard.

They also touted the services Dell offers to help customers migrate their workloads from RISC-based platforms, such as those of HP, IBM and Oracle, to their x86 systems.

Intel released its Xeon 7500 series in March, saying new performance and RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability) features make the high-end chip platform a good alternative for businesses looking to move their high-end workloads off RISC systems.

Though about 95 percent of servers shipped worldwide are x86-base systems, the other 5 percent generate about 40 percent of global server revenue, making the market an attractive one.

For its part, IBM announced April 27 that in the first quarter of the year, more than 200 customers-primarily from HP and Oracle's Sun Microsystems business-moved their business workloads onto IBM servers and storage devices.

The announcements from both companies came out just after HP unveiled a refreshed high-end Integrity server lineup that includes Intel's latest Itanium 9300 "Tukwila" processors as well as the results of HP's push to bring its converged infrastructure initiative to the Integrity line.

A host of innovations from chip makers and OEMs are creating an active environment in the server space, coupled with the expected rise in corporate IT spending by businesses wanting to refresh their aging fleets of systems and take advantage of new chip and server platforms.

In the first quarter, Intel not only released its eight-core Nehalem EX for servers with four or more sockets, but also its six-core Xeon 5600 "Westmere EP" processors for more mainstream systems, and its long-awaited Itanium 9300 chips. About 85 percent of Itanium revenues come from HP.

Advanced Micro Devices launched its eight- to 12-core Opteron 6000 "Magny-Cours" processors, and in the second quarter will launch its four- to six-core "Lisbon" Opteron chips.

Meanwhile, IBM rolled out the first of its Power7 servers.

Given this environment and the potential customer base for x86 servers opened up by Intel's Xeon 7500 and AMD's Opteron 6000 platforms, being early to the market with new systems is important, David Ard, manager of enterprise product marketing for Dell, said in an interview.

"The timing is pretty important," Ard said. "The scalability and expandability are compelling arguments for making the transition to the Nehalem EX platform."

Dell is shipping the PowerEdge M910 blade server and R810 and R910 rack systems running the Xeon 7500 chips.

Ard also said Dell's $3.9 billion acquisition of services company Perot Systems has helped the OEM bulk up its services business, including its offerings designed to help businesses move from RISC and Itanium platforms to x86.

For their part, IBM officials said since IBM's Migration Factory program began four years ago, almost 2,700 businesses have migrated their workloads onto IBM servers and storage. Most have come from high-end HP and Oracle/Sun customers, with 95 and 117 customers, respectively, moving in 2010 so far.

According to research company Gartner, HP shipped the most servers in the world in the fourth quarter of 2009, followed by Dell and IBM. However, IBM garnered the most server revenue, with HP coming in second and Dell in third.