IBM Unveils New Opteron Servers

The new systems combine AMD and IBM technology to address power and cooling issues, as the two companies deepen their chip relationship.

NEW YORK—IBM is rolling out a family of servers that combine Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processor with its own hardware and software technology to increase performance and system utilization while addressing the growing problems of power costs and heat generation.

At an event here Aug. 1, IBM and AMD officials jointly announced the new systems, saying their continued collaboration is an example of what needs to be done to bring more performance and power efficiency to the data center.

"The thermal issues were feeling here are here forever, and theyll get more difficult over time," said Bernie Meyerson, chief technology officer of IBMs STG (Systems and Technology Group). "Power will not magically go away as an issue."

By 2007, he said, many companies will be spending more on powering and cooling their data centers than on the technology they put into them, Meyerson said. In 2000, power costs were only 5 to 10 percent of overall systems costs.

The two companies also announced a deeper relationship based on their chip technology partnership.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., introduced five new Opteron-based systems—two blade servers and three rack-mount systems—targeted at what officials called the "business performance" sector. These are companies that want to leverage high-performance computing capabilities to address mainstream business needs using industry-standard technology.

The systems include the BladeCenter LS41, which can scale from two to four sockets, and the two-socket LS21. In addition, IBM introduced the System x3755, aimed at midmarket and larger enterprises, x3655 for such high-end workloads as database and business intelligence, and x3455 for HPC and technical computing nodes.

Opteron has a good track record in the HPC space, and it would make sense to bring the technology into systems aimed at this market segment, said Bill Zeitler, STG senior vice president and group executive. He pointed to Wall Street financial institutions as an example, saying that 17 of the largest 18 companies use IBMs BladeCenter blade servers—with more than 40,000 deployed—and that a year after the first AMD blade was introduced, Opteron-based systems account for 30 percent of those.

IBMs announcement comes at a time when AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., appears to be taking more market share away from rival Intel. Citing figures from Mercury Research, AMD said its share of the x86 server processor shipments climbed to 25.9 percent in the second quarter of 2006. AMD is scheduled to introduce the next version of Opteron— known as Rev F—Aug. 15. The new chips will have such capabilities as on-chip virtualization.

AMD also took a major step forward in May when Dell, a longtime Intel-only systems maker, said it would start shipping an Opteron-based system by the end of the year.

IBM was on stage with AMD in 2003 when the chip maker introduced Opteron, and was the first top-tier OEM to put the chip into one of its systems. However, IBMs use of the processor has been limited relative to Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, both of which have built out entire server lines using Opteron and have built a good business around them in the process. IBM is now taking a step in that direction.

Jed Scaramella, an analyst with IDC, in Framingham, Mass., said the closer the relationship IBM has with AMD, the more it will help the company compete with Sun and HP, which have already successfully begun using AMD processors as a leverage strategy in the market place.

The differentiator for IBM is the technologies that the systems maker can combine with Opteron, Zeitler said. Those include innovations around IBMs Enterprise X-Architecture being introduced with the new systems, among them the Xcelerated Memory Technology. AMDs Direct Connect architecture links memory directly to the CPU. The IBM feature increases the speed with which the chip accesses memory, offering up to 25 percent greater memory throughput, said Susan Whitney, general manager of IBMs System X and BladeCenter.

In addition, the HyperTransport technology in Opteron enabled IBM to increase scalability of the new blades by enabling users to snap one two-socket blade onto another, thus creating a four-socket blade in seconds.

The systems also offer more I/O options than previous models, Whitney said.

IBM also is combining the energy efficiency of Opteron with its new Cool Blue technologies, a collection of existing and new hardware and software offerings designed to help users deal with the growing problem of heat and power costs. Included in the portfolio is PowerExecutive, which enables customers to meter power usage and heat emissions, and control the amount of power used by a server or groups of servers. Planned enhancements including the ability to dynamically reallocate energy resources across server groups based on policies.

IBMs Rear Door Heat eXchanger, which fits upon a server rack that uses cool water to reduce heat emissions, and Calibrated Vector Cooling, which directs the path of air to cool the systems, also are included. Its Director management software and Virtualization Engine also help reduce power consumption and heat generation.

IBM also previewed Thermal Diagnostics, a data center-level offering that can pinpoint hotspots within the facility and automatically take action to correct them. Users can monitor heat emissions and their causes, Whitney said.

The introduction of the Cool Blue line makes sense for IBM, which is behind HP in this relatively new area of the industry, IDCs Scaramella said.

"My one really big question is how are they going to market it," he said, adding that many companies cannot decide if cooling and power are problems for the IT department or the facility manager.

For Iris Wireless, a Greenwich, Conn., company that offers mobile messaging and data applications globally, power was a key issue in its decision to switch from Dell to IBM, said CEO Peter Rinfret. So far, the Opteron-based servers have worked well for his company, he said.

"Number one, I think the Opteron processor is just a better product [than Intels]," Rinfret said. "Its much faster and much more reliable."

As for power, Rinfret said during the event that his companys data center in Tennessee had reached full capacity as far as power was concerned, and that he was waiting to learn if he would have to build additional data center space. He said Iris would start implementing the IBM PowerExecutive to help make better use of power for the companys data center in the future.

IBM and AMD both described their relationship as more than the traditional chip maker-OEM partnership. "This is far more than supplying silicon to IBM," said AMD CEO Hector Ruiz.

The two are working on chip design and processes to better enhance both of their product lines, and will work together as they shrink the silicon from 65 nanometers to 45nm to 32nm. The silicon partnership is slated to run through at least 2011.


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