IBM's Data Center Bender

IBM's got new servers, new services, new research - but is it worth the high price tag?

August 18, 2004

3 Min Read
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Computing giant IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) this week announced a raft of announcements targeting the data center, including server upgrades, new R&D projects, and the acquisition of a Danish consulting and services firm.

It's all part of IBM's plan to stay competitive in data centers against high-end server rivals like Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), and even against low-cost rivals like Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL).

On the systems front, IBM will upgrade its largest non-mainframe server, the 32-processor p690, to 64 processors later this year, said David Ayd, systems chief engineer, at the Share 2004 IBM user conference in New York City yesterday (see Share Sessions Scrutinize IBM). Also, he noted, system throughput will soon be added to the list of things that customers can buy as part IBM's on-demand model, with an I/O server drawer that can be turned on when needed.

In addition, officials said, IBM will start shipping the new midrange eServer i5 550 next month. That server runs up to four Power5 processors, which can also be bought with the on-demand approach: Customers can either pay-per-use, as with a phone card, or pay at the end of each month, in a metered utility setup. The servers aren't cheap, with Standard Edition (two-processor) bundles starting in the mid-$70,000 range. Activating the additional processors costs $3,700 each, and buying software options can push the cost over six figures, officials said.

IBM customers can make individual physical servers function as multiple logical servers with the Virtualization Engine, now shipping, officials also said yesterday. The technology in many cases requires that applications be specially prepared for it -- so, to help, software firm Sine Nomine Associates wrote code for the popular Apache servers and the MySQL database and, per open-source rules, will give it back to the community, officials said.The pSeries and iSeries compete against HP's NonStop servers, which came from Compaq (originally from Tandem). They run RISC processors but are being transitioned to Intel Corp.'s (Nasdaq: INTC) Itanium. HP's other high-end server series is AlphaServer, also from Compaq, and originally from DEC, which will get system upgrades through 2006, officials said. Sun's top servers are the Sun Fire 15K and Sun Fire 12K models. Customers using Dell systems, for their part, rely on clustering to achieve uptime with commodity components.

In services, the acquisition is Maersk Data, a subsidiary of shipping giant A.P.Moller Maersk Group. Central to the deal, which helps IBM sell to the transportation and logistics industry, is a Copenhagen data center. IBM also acquired a related services company, DMdata, founded with the 1997 merger of IT between Maersk Data and Danske Bank. IBM did not reveal the deal's size.

Meanwhile, in R&D, IBM will build the Power6 processor in the 2006/2007 timeframe, and is working with the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to build a reliable petaflop (1,000 trillion floating point operations per second) computer, said Ayd, the systems engineer. Materials science will help prevent future chips from simply melting under load, as might a return to water cooling, another researcher at the Share conference said. Computers by 2014 will be as fast as human brains, so, another researcher added, users will get more value if computers are designed to function more as people do.

Dana Kaempen, lead systems engineer at Walgreen Co., said IBM's continuing innovation is worth the cost of ownership. All of the 4,400 Walgreen's stores have an AS/400 server. Those and other IBM servers experience fewer failures than similar gear from other companies, he said. Along with the processor upgrades, "That's very valuable to me."

— Evan Koblentz, Senior Editor, and James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum0

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