IBM will upgrade its server line by the second quarter of next year when the company begins shipping systems with its own "Summit" chip set designed to improve the management and stability of Intel-based servers.
While IBM has profited from selling servers with Intel processors and Microsoft operating systems -- commonly referred to as Wintel machines -- the company has seen users shy away from this pairing in favour of applications that must be up and running at all times. Users running large Web sites or crucial financial applications, for example, tend to choose higher-end servers to ensure that their systems never go down.
Microsoft, in particular, has taken shots from users for producing lower-end operating systems than the versions of Unix offered by Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard. IBM, however, claims its Enterprise X Architecture chip set -- code-named "Summit" -- can make up for many of the shortcomings of the Wintel platform by improving processor functions, I/O speeds and memory features.
"If my partners aren't moving at the pace I want then I work on ways to improve the technology," said Tom Bradicich, director of architecture and technology for IBM's server group. "It's about looking at the industry standard and thinking of ways to help it."
The company will launch servers worldwide with the new chip set when Intel rolls out its Xeon server processors, Bradicich said. Intel is expected to release the Xeon chips in the first half of next year.
IBM will also release a 4-way server using Intel's second generation 64-bit McKinley processors sometime next year, Bradicich said. The company is currently in talks with both US and non-US vendors to license the Enterprise X Architecture.
IBM tried to bring some of its experience with mainframe computing to help the performance of Intel chips and Microsoft operating systems and has built features into its new chip set that should help users manage servers and keep the machines running.
Those features include tools built into the Enterprise X Architecture allowing users to link, for example, a pair of 4-way servers to create an 8-way system. The two servers would appear as one piece of hardware to the operating system and data would flow between the two at 3.2GBPs, Bradicich said.
This should allow users to pick and choose how much processing power they want for particular applications. Software components will allow administrators to change the number of processors dedicated to an application depending on usage demands at the time. This tool could attract companies that experience seasonal Web traffic spikes as they could use CPU (central processing unit) power for other applications during slow periods.
IBM plans to automate these management functions within a year or two in future iterations of the Enterprise X Architecture, Bradicich said.
IBM will also begin shipping a Remote I/O Expansion Chassis with servers built around the new chip set, which will let users add storage or networking resources to servers via an external hardware add-on. When users currently fill up all the PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) slots on a server, they do not have many options for adding components to the hardware. IBM, however, will sell the separate chassis that can connect via a cable to a server from as far as eight metres away, adding more PCI slots.
IBM has also added its "Chipkill" system for reducing the number of memory failures to the new chipset. Chipkill makes it possible to take an inoperative memory chip "off-line" while the server continues to run.
IBM and rival Sun also are trying to boost performance in the Unix market, adding high-end tools to mid-range server lines and packing more features into less expensive machines.
In addition, Sun has chopped the prices on its lower-end servers to take aim at Wintel vendors like Dell Computer. Sun, for example, recently launched the V880 with four UltraSparc III processors at 750MHz, 8GB of memory and six 36GB hard drives for $US49,995. A Dell PowerEdge 7150 with four 733MHz 64-bit Itanium processors, 8GB of memory and four 36GB hard drives starts at $42,658, according to information on Dell's Web site.