IBM Previews X4 Architecture

IBM's X4 chip set comes just in time for competitor Intel's new quad-core processors for the MP space.

IBM is showing off its new chip set architecture for its own line of high-end x86 servers just in time for the launch of Intels new platform for multiprocessor systems.

On Sept. 5, IBM will begin offering details of its X4 Architecture, which it plans to build into systems that use Intels quad-core "Tigerton" processors, which also began rolling out this week.

Intels "Caneland" platform for MP servers includes both new quad-core processors and a chip set. IBM, which is based in Armonk, N.Y., plans on using Intels new processors and its own X4 chip set architecture for a new MP systems in its System x product line.

Like its predecessor, the X3 Architecture, which debuted in 2005, the new X4 is designed to help bring mainframe-based and supercomputer capabilities to the companys x86 line of Intel-based MP servers.

When it does hit the market, Intels Caneland platform, which will complete the companys conversion to its own Core microarchitecture, is expected to compete against Advanced Micro Devices new quad-core Opteron processors, or "Barcelona," within the MP space. AMD has scheduled a Sept. 10 press event that many industry watchers suspect is the official debut of its quad-core processor.


Click here to read the latest on Barcelona.

While Intel and AMD have not offered specific guidance on when their respective quad-core processors will hit the market, both companies have already reported that they have begun to ship chips to their respective partners.

IBM, however, is moving ahead with its own plans for Intels 7300 series processors, said Jay Bretzmann, an IBM product marketing manager. In addition to expanding the virtualization capabilities of its own systems, Bretzmann said IBMs X4 Architecture also shows that the company can build a system with the latest "off-the-shelf" components to create a server with more capabilities than anything offered by its competitors.

"It allows us to scale up and offer some unique capabilities, especially when our customers are running large database applications, such as Oracle and SAP, as well as additional options when consider server consolidation projects," Bretzmann said.

With its X4 Architecture, IBM will offer the x3950 M2 with a platform that includes 32 Registered DIMM (dual in-line memory modules) slots that will be able to support up to 8GB of memory each for a total of 256GB of memory with each system. (The full Intel platform will use fully buffered DIMMs.)

Along with an embedded 4GB USB key that will contain a hypervisor—the software necessary for virtualization—Bretzmann said the new system will be able to support up to 800 virtual machines within a four-node server. Bretzmann declined to discuss which companies hypervisor technology IBM would embed within the new server except to note that Big Blue has been working with "multiple companies."

"The whole idea [of embedded virtualization] is to make it simpler to adopt," Bretzmann said. "Instead of loading software onto the server or downloading it from a company, customers now just have to plug in a chip and go."

With more memory and better hypervisor capabilities, Bretzmann said customers would be able to better take advantage of virtualization and consolidation projects within a data center as well as lower the cost of supporting each virtual machine within the physical hardware.


IBM has a new Cell-based blade. Click here to read more.

In addition to its virtualization capabilities, IBM is offering the 4U (7.5-inch) x3950 server, which supports four Tigerton processors—the top clock speed of these quad-core processors is 2.93GHz—in a chassis that can support up to four systems for a total of 16 processors and a total of 64 processing cores.

The new system, which will be available in the fourth quarter, will also use four, 2.5-inch SAS (serial-attached SCSI) hard disk drives that offer a maximum total capacity of 584GBs. Each system also offers a total of seven PCI-Express slots and rear swappable power supplies.

A starting price for the new System x x3950 M2 has not been set although it will have a similar price to some of the older System x servers that used the X3 Architecture.

This article has been updated to clarify the chip set technology that IBM plans on using in its new MP system.


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