Claiming a significant breakthrough in server-based computing, IBM will this week unveil its first Intel system based on its X3 architecture, along with a customised chipset that allows it to support as many as 32 single- or dual-core Xeon chips.
The newly minted IBM eServer xSeries 366 - the first in a series of dual-core-capable Intel servers coming this year - features built-in technical "hooks" designed to support IBM's Virtualization Engine and to ease server consolidation.
The system also ran 32- and 64-bit applications on the same platform, thereby allowing users to migrate to a 64-bit environment gradually, IBM said.
The server used a new chipset, code-named Hurricane, which adhered to the PCIX (PCI Extended) 2.0 specification and offered significantly more bandwidth capacity than the PCI 1.0 standard, CTO of xSeries and BladeCenter servers at IBM, Tom Bradicich, said.
"We could not find the reliability, performance, and scalability customers are asking us for in a commodity chip set, Bradicich said. "But by pooling our technical resources... we have an architecture that can deliver those capabilities."
Some analysts claim the Hurricane chip set and X3 architecture are a technical breakthrough that could benefit corporate buyers and apply pressure to IBM's server competitors, most notably Dell and HP.
"This is big news for the x86 market because now there are fewer components doing more powerful work, which translates into lower costs, better workloads, and hopefully a better deal," group vice-president at IDC, Vernon Turner, said.
In developing the chipset, IBM officials feel they have solved the long-standing problem of making industry-standard memory faster, which improved overall system performance.
"A processor is like a three-piece suit with the chip, the memory, and the I/O," Bradicich said. "With Hurricane on X3, we have made each of these better because the chipset acts as glue and as an intercommunications mechanism among all three parts."
The built-in virtualisation hooks support present and future versions of Linux and Windows, including Microsoft's long-hyped Longhorn, due in late 2006.
The xSeries 366, available in late March, will ship with four processors. Throughout 2005, IBM plans to deliver other X3-based, Xeon-based systems containing eight, 16, and 32 chips with either single or dual cores.
The Xeon chips in the upcoming system have Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) memory addressing, which serves to leverage the marriage of the Hurricane chipset and the latest processing capabilities of the Intel x86. The combination of these technologies boosts system performance by 35 per cent when a maximum of 64GB of memory is used.