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IBM Unveils Web 2.0 Server Model

IBM iDataplex
Thermal analysis tests "Green" configurations of iDataPlex. The right side of this picture shows an iDataPlex rack that has been so optimized.
Source: IBM

IBM (NYSE: IBM) today unveiled a new type of low-energy server designed to meet the power consumption crush straining the datacenters of the larger Internet companies.

The announcement of the iDataPlex system, made at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, is packaged as IBM's solution to the runaway power costs that follow the explosion of video, online gaming and other bandwidth-hungry applications traversing online networks.

"With IBM iDataPlex, IBM is making Web 2.0-style computing more efficient and commercializing it for Internet companies and other high-performance segments like financial services and research," Bill Zeitler, senior vice president of IBM's Systems and Technology group, said in a statement.

IBMs iDataPlex launch is part of its Blue Cloud initiative, which debuted in November. It offers businesses cloud-based computing power, based on open source software and open standards, in order to meet customers' data demands on the fly.

The iDataPlex is IBM's first significant foray into servers marketed specifically for Internet companies whose businesses are built around online advertising, rich-media content and data-intensive applications.

According to a recent study by WinterGreen Research, the Web 2.0 server market will reach $6.1 billion by 2014, up from $2.4 billion in 2007. When factoring in the attendant storage expense, the market for Web 2.0 infrastructure equipment will reach $10 billion, WinterGreen predicts.

In the Web 2.0 server market, IBM finds itself in competition with a familiar crowd led by Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ) and Dell (NASDAQ: DELL). Significantly, Google, which builds its own servers and sells none, accounts for 45 percent of all Web 2.0 server units produced, according to WinterGreen's figures.

By advancing its cloud strategy, IBM is moving to grab some mindshare in a cloud computing sector that has seen prominent Web companies grabbing the headlines, notably Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN).

But IBM claims that existing Web 2.0 server offerings are little more than souped-up "white boxes," a term that reflects everyday workstations with few special features. IBM claims that iDataPlex servers can boost computing power by a factor of five, while cutting energy costs by as much as 40 percent. Meantime, the form factor of the design enables twice as many servers to run on a rack. With traditional servers measuring around 30 inches in length, iDataPlex servers measure just 15 inches, an IBM spokeswoman told InternetNews.com.

In addition to the servers' power consumption, a big energy sink in datacenters comes from keeping the machines cool. IBM claims that the iDataPlex server racks can be set up with a liquid-cooling system on the back wall that enables them to run at room temperature without relying on air conditioning.

Susan Eustis, president of WinterGreen, said that the new model for the datacenter that IBM is working toward mirrors the architecture of the Internet itself.

"Rather than having a few big machines that do the work in a very reliable and secure way," Eustis told InternetNews.com, "the machines are used in a massively parallel manner."

With enterprises increasingly adopting Web 2.0 technologies for collaborative projects at work, Eustis believes demand for this new model of servers already exists, and looks for IBM's server rivals to follow suit to stay competitive.

"I would expect to see similar announcements from those other companies very soon," she said.

iDataPlex will support the Linux operating system, as well as the xCat open source cluster management technology.

IBM said the iDataPlex server model will be available in the United States and Canada in June, and will ship globally by the end of the year.