IBM Wednesday added its most powerful Unix server yet to its lineup, a 32-way system featuring its new “server on a chip” microprocessor architecture, the 1GHz 64-bit Power4.
The eServer p690, known by the code name Regatta, also features self-healing technologies to reduce system failures and has the capability to be divided into as many as 16 virtual servers that can enable businesses to consolidate several machines into one.
IBMs new system, which will begin shipping Dec. 1, marks the latest entry in the increasingly competitive high-end Unix server market. Just last week, Sun Microsystems Inc. debuted its 106-way Sun Fire 15K server, its new top-of-the-line system. Earlier this summer, Fujitsu Technology Solutions unveiled a 128-processor system, the PrimePower 2000.
Unix servers, which can cost up to $10 million each, have become a mainstay at many large corporations because of their reliability and ability to readily scale upward to meet increasing workload demands. In addition, high-end multiprocessor Unix systems are capable of handling a large number of simultaneous transactions, making them particularly prized by financial institutions and companies developing e-commerce sites.
According to IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., among the first companies receiving the p690 are U.S. defense contractor Raytheon Co., food retailer Royal Ahold N.V., Telia Internet Inc. and Tokyo Metro University.
Last year, Sun was the No. 1 high-end Unix server vendor, garnering 47.1 percent of the worldwide market, based on revenue, according to research firm International Data Corp. IBM was a distant second with 18.8 percent, and HP was third with 11.4 percent.
But in overall server revenue, IBM is king, capturing 26 percent of the worldwide market, according to the latest quarterly numbers released last month by IDC. Sun came in second with a 16.5 percent share.
New Server a Game
New Server a Game Changer
IBMs launch of its most powerful Unix server yet increases the threat to Suns once formidable dominance of the Unix server market, according to industry analyst Brad Day of the Giga Information Group.
“IBM is getting very aggressive, and this server is a game changer,” Day said. “IBMs making the argument that based on their microprocessor enhancements and new system technologies, their system can handle high-end workloads using fewer processors than competitors. That alone was a big threat to Sun.”
The debut of the Power4, which will be integrated into other IBM systems next year, was eagerly anticipated by at least one IBM mainframe user.
“I hear its going to blow peoples socks off,” said Robert Cancilla, director of corporate systems planning for Republic Indemnity Co. of America, in Encino, Calif., which uses several IBM mainframes.
“We dont use the P series, but we will probably be very interested in it when they ship the I series,” he said. “From my understanding, theyve done some amazing stuff with this thing.”
At the heart of the new IBM system is the companys Power4 microprocessor, a new design that combines two 1GHz processors onto a single die, along with a high-bandwidth system switch and large memory cache. The combination creates what IBM calls a “server on a chip.”
The newly designed 1GHz Power4 represents a tremendous leap over its predecessor, the 450MHz Power3.
“The Power4 has got a number of advantages, such as 125G-bps bandwidth between the cache and CPUs, which is the equivalent of downloading 125 DVD movies in a second,” said Dan Powers, IBMs vice president of enterprise server strategies.
The chips new design also provides the added bonus of saving energy, he said, an area of key concern when multiple processors are bundled together in a single box.
“This chip consumes about half the power of our previous generation of chips, as well as those of other Unix competitors,” Powers said.
In addition, IBM designed new self-diagnosing and self-healing technologies into the p690, developed as part of the companys multibillion-dollar eLiza project, which aims to produce systems that can recognize and repair problems without human assistance.
“There are literally thousands of sensors that are in this system that basically can detect if components may fail or have failed,” Powers said. “The basic idea is to quickly address, isolate and eliminate chain-reaction failures that can spread and eventually bring the entire system down.”
IBM is also promoting its new high-end server as a single-chassis solution that can effectively handle workloads companies may currently have spread over several different machines.
By taking advantage of what IBM calls “virtualization,” or what is more commonly known as partitioning, users could essentially divide a p690 into 16 individual servers, each running its own operating system and applications.
Overall, the p690 is designed to address the concerns of increasingly cost-conscious enterprise customers, Powers said.
“When customers look at platforms, theyre looking at how much floor space they take up, how much power they are consuming, how much system management time is required, and how much they cost,” he said. “In all four areas, were reducing the price for customers.”
But perhaps the most compelling argument in IBMs favor, according to Gigas Day, is how much more work IBMs 1GHz Power4 can do compared with rival chips, such as Suns fastest chip, the 900MHz UltraSPARC III.
Based on two industry-standard benchmarks, the SPECint 2000 and SPECpf200, the Power4 performs up to 2.4 times faster than the UltraSPARC III, which should enable the p690 to tackle workloads with fewer processors than what competitors systems require to achieve the same performance.
“The other vendors like Sun and Fujitsu brag about creating 72-way or greater systems,” he said. “But IBMs argument is that they want to do more with less. In addition, many application licensing fees are tied to how many processors you run, so the more chips you have the more you end up paying.”
While system prices vary greatly based on configurations, IBMs mid- to high-end Unix systems generally are priced well below systems from Sun. For example, a 16-way IBM p690 with 16GB of memory is priced at about $760,000, while a 16-way Sun Fire 15K costs about $1.4 million. An entry-level p690, with eight processors and 8GB of memory, lists at $450,000.
The system can utilize IBMs AIX or Linux applications.