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IBM Rolls Out Power7 As Rivals Converge

Call it Stack Wars. While competitors play tag-team, IBM this week reminded the market that it's been delivering tightly bundled systems on its own for years and introduced its latest weapon in the race toward fully integrated business engines--Power7-based servers. "This is not a chip announcement," insisted Rodney Adkins, senior VP for IBM's Systems and Technology Group, at a press conference at Manhattan's opulent Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Adkins said the Power7 processor is just one part, though a key one, of a new family of IBM servers designed for a world where everything from toasters to 747s are computerized and online--and businesses will have to deal with all that data. "Computing is becoming a lot more pervasive," said Adkins, noting IBM expects there'll be a trillion connected objects on the planet by next year. Financial institutions, healthcare providers, and other organizations will have to handle and make sense of the resulting information tsunami and will "require a new type of performance" from there hardware to do so, said Adkins.

With that, IBM unveiled four new servers built from the ground up to withstand the data demands of a world envisioned by the company's Smarter Planet campaign, where everything is connected to everything. The Power 780, Power 770, Power 755 are enterprise systems, while the Power 750 Express is for mid-market customers who don't need the horsepower and capacity of the higher-end models. All are based on the new Power7 processor, the full specs of which might fill a phonebook. The upshot, however, is that Power7 chips can run 32 simultaneous tasks thanks to an 8-core architecture and four virtual cores, or threads, per core. That's 4-times the maximum number of cores found in Power6 systems and 8-times the number of threads.

Power7 also features TurboCore mode for intense database and transactional environments (think Wall Street). TurboCore shifts resources from non-active cores to active cores on-the-fly to increase memory, bandwidth and clock speed. Power7's "Intelligent Threads" technology also affords dynamic resource allocation depending on workloads, while Memory Expansion uses compression technology to virtually double the amount of physical memory available to an application. "That's more memory for SAP" and other resource hungry biz apps, said Ross Mauri, general manager for IBM Power Systems, who also spoke at the heavily-attended press conference. It also means businesses can get away with a smaller hardware footprint at a time when space and energy are at a premium. "We optimized every pillar," said Mauri. In a sign that so-called "coopetition" in the tech industry is breaking down amid vendor consolidation and a tough economy, Mauri took shots at Dell's and Microsoft's ability to run IBM's business stack on their own platforms.

He also claimed Sun hardware under Oracle would be no more competitive than Sun on its own and no match for Power7 when it comes to running ERP systems and other business software. IBM's renewed emphasis on its ability to offer bundled systems isn't surprising, given its rivals have turned to the same playbook.

Hewlett-Packard last month revealed an alliance with Microsoft under which the companies pledged to spend $250 million over the next three years to trick out HP ProLiant servers and other hardware for maximum performance with SQL Server, Hyper-V virtualization and other products from Redmond. "It's about optimizing machine capability with software capability," HP CEO Mark Hurd said at the time of the announcement.

Oracle, meanwhile, promises to deliver an "end-to-end" stack of tightly connected hardware, databases, and applications now that its $7.4 billion buyout of Sun is in the books. In a further sign of its one-stop IT shop ambitions, Larry Ellison's outfit on Monday disclosed the acquisition of AmberPoint, which develops management software for service-oriented architectures (SOA) for cloud and other advanced environments. Terms weren't disclosed.

For tech industry veterans who've seen the rise and fall of vertically integrated vendors like DEC and Sperry, it's all enough to conjure feelings of deja vu. But relative newcomers are surely left wondering what's become of the "best of breed" concept touted in recent years as an alternative to the IBM playbook by the very vendors who now appear bent on recreating themselves in Big Blue's image. Expect a pitched battle. IBM's Power7 roadmap shows Armonk won't easily yield ground to HewlettSoft or Sunacle.