IBM Servers to Tap Big Iron

Intel-based xSeries offers performance-enhancing technologies drawn from mainframe systems.

IBM is poised to release a four-processor, Intel Corp.-based server, code-named Crusade, that will feature performance-enhancing technologies drawn from the companys high-end mainframe systems.

The hardware and software features integrated into the upcoming xSeries server are part of what IBM calls its Enterprise X-Architecture, previously code-named Summit.

Enterprise X-Architecture not only will squeeze the most performance out of Intel chips, IBM executives said, but it also will give IBM servers a competitive edge over rival systems using the same processors.

Some IT managers were skeptical.

"I think theyre just trying to differentiate themselves from the Dells of the world by contending that they have some performance advantages, but Im not sure people will buy into that," said Tom Miller, senior director of corporate IS, at Affymetrix Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., and an eWeek Corporate Partner. "I dont think a new chip set and some software is going to make that much of a difference."

The server will be based on an upcoming Xeon processor, code-named Foster, which is touted as offering up to a 50 percent performance boost over current Xeons. While Intel, also of Santa Clara, is not scheduled to release it until early next year, IBM said its ready to roll now.

"Wed really like to see it come out as soon as possible," said Brendan Paget, worldwide product marketing manager for IBMs Intel-based xSeries line, in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The Enterprise X-Architecture is designed to enable customers to build as they go, allowing users to add four-way servers and build up to a 16-way system linked together with new high-speed scalability ports, IBM officials said. While Unix servers also offer the capability to scale up, Paget said, customers must pay for that upfront.

"People buying Unix systems often buy a 16-way Unix server and equip it with only four processors at first," Paget said. "To have the flexibility to grow, they had to pay for a larger system even though they didnt need it. With this design, you pay as you go."

IBM will equip the server with new applications and tools designed to improve system management. Among the features will be some of the self-diagnosing and self-healing technologies designed as part of the companys eLiza program, with the aim of assuring continuous system stability.

"Many of these things are not new to mainframes," said Tom Bradicich, director of server architecture and technology for IBMs server group, also in Research Triangle Park. "But whats new is their application in the Intel high-volume space."

IBM executives said the Enterprise X-Architecture not only is geared at 32-bit Xeon processors but also is designed to work with Intels 64-bit Itanium processors, in particular the second-generation chip, code-named McKinley, due to be released next year.

Since about 80 percent of the core chip sets on the 32-bit and 64-bit platforms will be the same, Bradicich said, IBM will have an edge over competitors in offering a new McKinley-based system on a platform that already has been "battle tested."