IBM has pushed its Power5 line of servers down into the low end of the market, taking Linux with it, thanks to an aggressively priced series of Linux-only systems that will go up against the offerings of Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard.
Specifically tuned to run Linux, the new four-way, 64-bit eServer OpenPower machines will not be available with IBM's proprietary Unix-based operating system, AIX. They will ship only with either Red Hat's distribution of Linux, based on the 2.4 Linux kernel, or the Suse Linux version, which is based on the 2.6 kernel.
"We sat down with the key maintainers of Linux and asked them what we can do inside the Power5, Power5 Plus, and eventually the Power 6 architectures to accelerate the (performance) of Linux. This is why we are introducing things like first failure data capture, hardware-based cache coherencies, and much improved synchronization mechanics," said Brian Connors, vice president in charge of IBM's Linux on Power Business line of products.
As part of the rollout on Monday, IBM also offered details on a two-way Power-based system to be delivered sometime in next year's first quarter, Connors said.
IBM officials believe they can leverage the strength they have been building among application developers for the Power architecture, where they claim to now have hundreds of certified applications that can now work with the new lower-end systems.
"We have over 650 certified applications for Linux on Power, and now we can extend those down to servers with one to four processors, thereby creating a solid entry-level platform for Linux. And if they want to extend and scale Linux, say, in a logical partition, they still have our pSeries and xSeries lines," Connors said.
Top-tier Linux distributors appear to welcome the new systems, believing it in fact will open up more competitive opportunities for them.
"We consider (the OpenPower servers initiative) to be a significant step in advancing the Linux ecosystem. This will make it more possible to deliver some of the advantages of the security and affordability Linux can offer," a company spokesman said.
IBM will pursue what company officials perceive to be a rich opportunity for the systems in the financial and retail industries where Sun, in particular, has been strong. The company, through its network of resellers and business partners, plans to deliver a number of solutions geared towards those two markets later this year, Connors said.
The company will make its Virtualization Engine available as an option with the four-way systems. That technology helps administrators simplify the management and utilization of a range of different IT hardware and software resources and better enables them to support business process change.
"Through virtualization we can go after those users looking to do server consolidation of workloads. You can consolidate 20 servers, each costing US$3,000 to US$4,000, down to one Power-based system with a US$2,000 virtualization engine," Connors said.
The two eServer OpenPower Model 720s will be positioned against the higher end of Sun and HP's entry-level Unix servers and can be purchased with either the 1.5GHz or 1.65GHz versions of the Power5. They are available in either a rack mount or tower configuration, can hold as much as 64GB, and are optionally available with IBM's Virtualization Engine.
The system can hold either the single or dual-core versions of the Power5.
The OpenPower 720 systems will ship on September 24 with the base configuration of a 1.5GHz processor, 512MB DDR RAM and 36GB hard drive costing AUD$8,100. The 1.65GHz machine with 1GB DDR RAM and 36GB hard drive will sell for AUD$25,800. The virtualization option will be priced at about AUD$3,100 when it is available later in the year, said Andrew Rouch who is in charge of Linux on Power sales in Australia.
The product will ship either directly through IBM sales or via its distribution partners. "Volume sales will start from October," Rouch said.