IBM Refines Next-Gen Chip Sets for High End

IBM plans servers with next-generation EXA chips.

IBM engineers are looking to add high-end virtualization, greater scalability and enhanced I/O capabilities into the next generation of chip sets that run in many servers powered by Intel Corp.s Xeon chips.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., is planning to roll out servers featuring the third generation of its EXA (Enterprise X Architecture) chip sets early next year, after Intels release of the Xeon MP processor, code-named Potomac and due later this year.

IBM introduced the EXA chip sets, code-named Summit, in 2000 as a way of bringing the management and high-availability features of mainframe systems into its line of Intel-based xSeries servers, then called the Netfinity line. In the first two generations of EXA, those features included high-scalability and high-performance capabilities, as well as the means to work around failed memory and diagnose problems without having to bring the system down.

The chip sets are used in IBMs "scale-up" systems as opposed to "scale-out" systems such as blade servers, said Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer for the xSeries platform.

Currently, the chip sets can scale up to systems running 32 processors. Bradicich said IBM is looking to increase the scalability of the third-generation chip set to at least 64 processors, although it might go higher depending on customer demand.

It also depends on what fits best within the companys other offerings, including systems running 64-bit Itanium chips from Intel, Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and IBMs own Power processors, he said.

The move would differentiate IBM from competitors such as Hewlett-Packard Co., which will not take the Xeon beyond eight-way servers and is using the Itanium in its high-end systems, and Dell Inc., which last year said it was halting plans for an eight-way system.

Leo Hurtado, who is vice president of IT and CIO at W.S. Badcock Corp., said he is happy to see IBM investing in xSeries. But simply being able to scale up to 64 processors wouldnt persuade him to buy larger systems. "Its very compelling, but in my company, were going to let applications dictate what hardware we use," said Hurtado, in Mulberry, Fla.

A key addition to EXA will be greater virtualization capabilities, something already offered in IBMs Power-based RISC servers and mainframe zSeries systems but not as prevalent in Intel-based servers. "That technology is just coming to the Intel platform," Bradicich said.