IBM Offering New Cell-Based Blade

The new system is IBM's second blade architecture to use a Cell processor.

IBM is expanding its Cell processor technology within the enterprise.

The Armonk, N.Y., company is announcing the availability of its new BladeCenter QS21 blade server Aug. 29, which is IBMs second blade platform to use its nine-core Cell processor technology.

Since developing the Cell processor with Toshiba and Sony mainly for game consoles, IBM has sought to bring this processor architecture to a much wider enterprise audience. In 2006, Big Blue developed the first Cell-based blade server—the BladeCenter QS20—and earlier this year the company announced plans to incorporate the Cell architecture into its System z mainframe systems.

Within the blade market, IBM and Hewlett-Packard are each vying for dominance. In its Aug. 23 survey of the blade server market, IDC found that in the second quarter of 2007, HP claimed 47 percent of all blade shipment, while IBM held the second position with a 32 percent share.

What IBM is looking to do with its Cell-based systems is bring the benefits of HPC (high performance computing) to a much broader audience, said Paula Richards, the product manage for Cell Systems and Solutions at IBM. This type of blade system is designed for companies that are running graphics or visually intensive applications, such as digital medical imaging businesses or digital video surveillance, or for financial companies that need real-time analytics, said Richards.


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The new Q21 blade, compared with the previous system, offers improvements in I/O, memory and bandwidth. For example, IBM is now using 2GB of I/O buffer memory in the new system. This means that the I/O throughput can support up to 16 lanes of single data rate InfiniBand.

In addition to including two Cell processors, each running at 3.2GHz, IBM has increased the system memory from 1GB to 2GB per processor. The new blade system also supports dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, and customers also have the option of dual-port 4X InfiniBand fabrics that are connected through a PCI Express port.

The QS21 blade server measures about 1U (1.75 inches), which means that 14 systems can fit into a standard IBM BladeCenter chassis. With the older QS20, only seven blades could fit into the chassis. When running at peak capacity, a fully loaded chassis with 14 QS21 blades offers 6.4 teraflops of performance, or 6.4 trillion calculations per second, according to IBM.

However, since the QS21 has no internal disk storage, Richards said most customers will likely mix and match the blade with other x86 or Power servers in the same chassis or within the same rack to provide storage capacity.

The QS21 will also support the 5.1 version of Red Hat Linux Enterprise when the operating system is released in the fourth quarter.


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In addition to the updated hardware, IBM will offer a new version of its Development Kit for Multicore Acceleration, which will allow ISVs and third-party vendors to develop applications for this type of system. The kit offers IDE (Integrated Development Environment), performance tools, Accelerated Library Framework, and Data Communication and Synchronization DaCS libraries.

The kit contains additional debugging, performance analysis and tuning tools.

The development kit will start shipping on Oct. 19, and the QS21 blade server will not ship until Oct. 26. The starting price for the blade is $9,995, according to IBM.


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