RealTime IT News

On-Demand Ramps up in IBM's POWER5

The wait for a physical manifestation of IBM's first-of-its-kind virtual computing platform is over.

Big Blue took the wraps off two servers Monday -- dubbed eServer i5 520 and 570 -- built with the company's next-generation POWER5 processors, which are primed to provide twice the computing power of their POWER4+ predecessors.

The systems run a new version of the company's OS 400 operating system, called i5/OS.

The machines can integrate and run multiple operating systems, providing the true on-demand environment IBM has been hawking for two years. The servers are a major stepping stone in IBM's e-business on-demand computing push to help customers control the amount of resources they consume in their businesses.

IBM i5 Product Manager Ian Jarman said the new iSeries machines support IBM's version of Unix, AIX, and for the first time run Linux on POWER, as well as i5/OS in logical partitions on the platform.

Windows OS is supported through an integration of an Intel server called the integrated xSeries server. This allows IBM to integrate the storage, security and management features of Windows servers.

Also for the first time, Jarman said IBM will run Linux on the Intel xSeries servers inside.

Jarman said this provides an opportunity for existing customers to consolidate disparate servers running different OS' onto one machine, allowing them to save money in unnecessary hardware and resources. It also potentially opens a tempting window for new customers to migrate from competing platforms for the same reason.

Jarman told internetnews.com the eServer i5 is built to target the small- and medium-sized business market, where IBM and competitors such as Microsoft , Dell and HP are competing for coveted market share.

Both machines will come bundled with WebSphere Application Server -- Express, sitting on i5/OS. With one to two-way processing, the 520 is an attack on Microsoft's SQL Server database market share, and Dell or HP Intel servers.

The one to four-way processor 570, which Jarman said is pitted against a combination of an Oracle database, HP-UX and HP PA-RISC servers, boasts Reserve Capacity on Demand, which is a sort of "reserve tank" of processing power, On/Off Capacity on Demand and Memory Capacity on Demand.

The machines are grounded in the Armonk, N.Y. company's Virtualization Engine, a set of software tools announced just last week that help customers vastly improve the economics and operations of under-used IT assets.

With the engine, system administrators will be able to partition their systems like a mainframe, running as many as ten servers per microprocessor, for a total of a 40-way system. Sageza Group Research Director Charles King said the new technology means a four-way machine can emulate 40 UNIX or Linux servers.

Analysts often estimate most servers utilize less than 20 percent of their capacity. With the virtualization engine technologies in the i5, IBM hopes to close that gap by bringing advanced logical partitioning (LPAR) and virtual storage into the mix.

In this case, Jarman said capabilities such as automatic processor balancing allow users to let two partitions share a pool of processors. If one partition is not using its processing, the other can automatically use the additional performance. The system can, itself, strike a balance between different workloads, driving up the utilization of the processor.

"If you're running a hotel, you try to fill all of the rooms every night," Jarman said, by way of comparison. "If you're running airline, you want to fill every seat. If you're running a server, you want to run it to 100 percent capacity."

Sageza's King said the iSeries has historically been a tough sell for IBM because it couldn't quite go toe-to-toe with traditional RISC servers in an apples-to-apples comparison, so customers didn't have a frame of reference versus competing servers. Because the new technology and packages cover so many bases, they should ease this marketing pain a bit, he said.

On the economics side, the i5 represents a streamlining of pricing for the iSeries. The company will now have comparable prices for disks, memory and system components with its UNIX brethren, Jarman said.

The IBM eServer i5 520 Express Edition is priced for a fully configured system starting at $11,500 (this is the manufacturer's suggested list price, because it is sold through channels). The IBM eServer i5 570 is available starting at $85,200. The IBM eServer i5s will go on sale June 11.