RealTime IT News

Big Blue Boasts Power PC Blades

IBM has brought blade servers into the realm of 64-bit computing with its first blade server based on its PowerPC architecture.

The eServer BladeCenter JS20 system, unveiled Tuesday, employs the PowerPC architecture, used to power Apple G5s, giving customers an added dimension of choice for thin form factor computing, which conserves both space and energy in data centers. Bundling the PowerPC architecture with blades also offers customers an alternative to using Intel's Xeon processors both with no additional costs.

The Armonk, N.Y. company's new blade product employs the PowerPC 970 chip, which is derived from the Power4 technology employed in IBM's eServer pSeries Linux-based servers; it scales the largest of any blade the company has offered to date.

The new product is the latest in a division-wide push to provide more Linux-oriented server options as alternatives to Unix machines for customers in the interest of promoting the idea of choice against the dreaded tag of vendor lock-in, a label which IBM has thrown at rival Sun Microsystems on occasion. The new product also contributes to a blade server market research firm IDC expects to account for more than one quarter of the total server market by 2007.

The JS20 is geared for customers in financial services and research and life sciences, said Brian Connors, vice president of Linux on Power, whose position was created to expand the scalability of Linux across the company's product lines and bolster IBM's presence for the popular open-source operating system throughout the industry.

Connors said the news of the Power-based blades is significant because IBM now offers blade servers powered by differing processors -- PowerPC and Xeon -- that can run differing operating systems all while sharing the same chassis at the same time, making data center manageability easier.

"This moves Power architecture to price points typically held by IA-32 class products," Connors told internetnews.com. "And we see this as the equivalent of Intel's 32-bit class architecture with the robustness of the Power technology to push Linux further into the enterprise."

"This is about increasing customer choice in a very heterogeneous world but we also want scale these things out massively to optimize performance cluster models," Connors continued, pointing to the momentum of Linux to the recent news of the company's Blue Gene supercomputer progress.

Connors said a clear migration from Unix to Linux in the low-end server market is hurting companies like Sun and HP, while IBM, who generally offers more choices than its competitors, stand to benefit from being able to run multiple operating systems due to the logical partitioning capabilities of its Unix-based pSeries machines, as well as it ability to run Linux "directly on the metal."

It is this flexibility, the will keep Linux-hungry customers from pushing the company's pSeries servers to the side, Connors said. Customers transitioning to Linux, he said, will be able to run AIX while consolidating workloads for Linux.

"We want to drive Linux to be as robust as the Unix market over time," Connors said.

"We believe that BladeCenter JS20 brings a proven, industry standard 64-bit processor, POWER4, into the very successful blades domain of Intel or Intel-compatible blades," said Sageza Group analyst AJ Dennis. "In delivering such a highly managed, highly redundant, highly integrated SMP/Cluster capable, rackable chassis for the HPC community, IBM is setting the mark for Linux/Windows blade clusters today and perhaps the standard for computing component interconnect and integration of the future."

Developed with the company's now standard BladeCenter chassis, the JS20 will have Power processor-based, 2 way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP), a base memory of 512MB, as well as systems management features for easy integration and low operational costs. JS20 supports both SuSE Linux and Turbolinux.

The JS20 is also now the least expensive Power processor-based server available on the market, featuring a starting price of $2,699, which is the same as the Xeon-based BladeCenter products.

Looking forward, Connors said IBM plans to create additional BladeCenter options that will lead to further consolidation in the big server industry, as the company continues to fill out its product line to handle various types of workloads.

IBM Tuesday also unveiled the eServer BladeCenter for Bioinformatics, a solution designed to deliver high-throughput computing and application performance in life science research environments, where workload balancing is often difficult. Applications for sequence analysis, such as BLAST, FASTA, and HMMER, have been ported to and run on the JS20.