IBM is unveiling a new family of x86 servers designed to enable enterprises to scale the memory of their virtualized data center environments without having to buy new systems.
At the CeBIT show in Germany March 2, IBM is announcing the first of its eX5 servers sporting the vendor’s new fifth-generation X-Architecture chip, which will work in concert with Intel’s upcoming eight-core “Nehalem EX” Xeon processors for systems with four or more sockets.
With its upgraded x86 solution, IBM is looking to break the lock that ties together memory and processors to create a more flexible and scalable solution in such memory-intense environments as virtualized and highly consolidated data centers, according to Tom Bradicich, IBM fellow and vice president of systems technology
“Before, if an IT manager needed more memory, the IT manager would need to buy a whole new server,” Bradicich said in an interview. Having to do so would mean not only spending money for items-such as processors-that weren’t needed, but also adding to the management headaches and data center sprawl.
With IBM’s new systems, which decouple the memory from the processor, IT administrators can expand their memory footprint without having to buy entire new servers, he said.
“You don’t have to buy the whole Happy Meal to get the prize,” Bradicich said.
The x86 server market grew out of the PC space, where the memory and processor were tightly tied together.
“This if the first step in taking the PC out of the PC server,” he said. “Unlike our competitors, we don’t think that the architecture of a PC should serve as a server architecture.”
IBM, which is looking to continue gaining ground on rival Hewlett-Packard in the x86 space, sees the memory capabilities as a key differentiator. Bradicich said the new eX5 servers enable users to get more done with fewer systems.
According to IBM, the eX5 systems, with its independent memory scaling, offers 600 percent more memory than is currently available in the industry.
Joe Clabby, principal analyst at Clabby Analytics, said that as enterprises push to bring more virtualization into their data centers to help consolidate systems-and with the growth of multicore processors and 64-bit computing-memory in x86 environments has been a key challenge.
“You’ve got all the processing power, but the problem with x86 is, how do you manage the memory?” Clabby said in an interview.
Many enterprise IT administrators he’s spoken with are reluctant to virtualize more than 50 percent of their data center environments because of the memory issues. With greater memory management, enterprises should be able to virtualize 80 percent or more of their data centers.
“That’s a 30 percent gain,” he said.
Memory a Huge Pain Point
IDC analyst Matt Eastwood said that memory “has been a huge pain point for customers” not only looking to virtualize their environments but also running such workloads as large databases.
IBM’s Bradicich said that IBM not only is offering the independent memory in its eX5 systems, but also new flash storage technology, which combined will mean 30 times better database performance than current systems, 99 percent better performance-per-watt, and the ability to run 78 percent more virtual servers for the same licensing cost. The systems will cut in half the number of servers needed for given workloads.
The highly optimized solid-state drives will slash storage costs by 97 percent by replacing hundreds of hard-disk drives and thousands of wires and cables, he said.
Other features include FlexNode, which enables a single server to become two distinct systems and then be reduced to a single system when needed; scheduled provisioning; and improved security by greater isolation of workloads.
IBM’s System Director management software also will enable IT administrators to preconfigure servers, remotely repurpose them, and create automatic updates and recoveries.
In all, IBM will roll out three new eX5 systems during the year. There will be a highly scalable four-socket system, a new blade design and an entry-level two-socket system that-with the new features-will offer enterprise-level performance.
This will be the first time IBM has brought its X-Architecture capabilities to blade servers, Bradicich said. In the past, the technology has been offered only in rack-mount servers.
IBM’s introduction of its new eX5 systems comes at a particularly opportune time, according to analysts. Not only is Intel getting ready to launch its Nehalem EX chip line, but enterprises that have been holding back on replacing older servers due to the global recession are preparing to aggressively refresh the systems this year.
In addition, the push for converged data center solutions continues to rise, and x86 systems are increasingly expanding the workloads they can run as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices push their processors into the higher end. Not only is Intel preparing Nehalem EX, but also this month, AMD will launch its 12-core “Magny-Cours” Opteron chips.
At the same time, the Unix market continues to shrink, and x86 is becoming a larger part of the server market. Sun Microsystems SPARC/Solaris customers are jumping ship after the company was bought by Oracle for $7.4 billion, and while some are moving to IBM’s Power or HP’s Itanium-based Integrity line, others are taking a look at x86.
“There’s a huge opportunity for x86 [vendors],” Clabby said.
That also could present a challenge for IBM, IDC’s Eastwood said. IBM will have to work to keep the eX5 systems from stepping on the toes of its Power and lower-end System z mainframe systems.
IBM already is making a strong move in the x86 space, Eastwood said. The company in 2009 grew its blade market share by 5 percentage points, and its standing in the four-socket space by 3.5 points, he said.
And now, by adding blades and a two-socket server to the eX5 lineup, IBM will be addressing the entire x86 market.
Both Eastwood and Clabby said a key differentiator for IBM is its heritage in mainframes and high-end Unix servers. IBM is able to cascade advanced features from those higher-end systems to its x86 servers.
“Other vendors don’t quite have that lineage,” Clabby said.