IBM Bridges to Madison Chips

IBM Monday will unveil a slew of new xSeries servers to
hail the arrival of the long-anticipated “Madison” Itanium 2 chips from
Intel .

The Armonk, N.Y. giant’s prize in the lot is the eServer xSeries 445, a
server based on the company’s second generation of
its vaunted Enterprise X-Architecture (EXA) technology that can scale up to
32 Intel Xeon Processors MP. The other 6 new xSeries machines today are
based on Xeon and Itanium 2 architectures.

For IBM, the news shows full-blown support for the Itanium 2 architecture it
had once been reticent support because, as IBM
Product Manager eServer xSeries systems Jay Bretzmann put it, Windows 2003
wasn’t ready yet. “There just wasn’t enough applications at the time to
warrant building systems with Itanium 2.”

The x445 features the company’s patented XpandOnDemand configuration, which
allows customers to increase computing capacity on demand and pay for the
capacity as it is activated. Such technology is a cornerstone in the
company’s e-business on-demand computing push, where customers control how
much computing power is used as opposed to having IT infrastructure sit and
depreciate in value during latent periods.

Singapore Polytechnic has already selected the x445 for its new scale up
infrastructure to support the E-Cell research project and Virtual High
Throughput Screening for possible drug leads against Dengue Virus.

Tailored for Intel chips, EXA is designed to lower a company’s
total-cost-of-ownership with it “pay-as-you-grow” XpanOnDemand technology
and help lower cost of operations with mainframe inspired technologies.
IBM’s Bretzmann said IBM has come a long way in defining the benefits of EXA
to customers since it was introduced in December 2001.

“Our next step was to take the opportunity to reduce latency and increase
performance,” Bretzmann said. “We don’t have to teach people what
pay-as-you-grow is anymore. XpandOnDemand allows database customers to buy a
server up front and they don’t have to worry about painful upgrades.”

Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said the XpandOnDemand features in the new
IBM servers center on availability and scalability, in addition to bearing
attractive price points.

Meanwhile rival HP has seized upon IBM’s hesitation to jump
out of the gate and take the lead on Itanium 2 system sales, according to
Haff, who said IBM is in an interesting position because its Power chip
architecture in the company’s pSeries line “certainly competes with Itanium
on some levels.”

Bretzmann doesn’t think HP’s lead at this point presents a significant
advantage. “That kind of thing matters when you’re talking about a mature
technology,” he said. “This is not quite the case with Itanium 2. There are
more applications and this is more of a mature ecosystem than it was.”

As of now, HP, IBM and Unisys are the leading supporters of Itanium 2, although
Dell Wednesday threw
into the mix with a high-performance 64-bit system designed for
high-end computing tasks such as movie special effects and genomic research. Unisys has also indicated it is developing a new Itanium 2-based family of servers that go from 4- to 16-way.

Specs for the IBM servers, which run Linux and Windows, are as follows:

  • The x445 is available in 4U building blocks with 4 eight processors
    each. Ideal for server consolidation, it also includes up to 64GB memory per
    chassis, remote input/output + RIO Sharing and Active Memory with Hot-swap
    Memory and Hot-add Memory. The eServer x445 is available on July 1 at a base
    price of $18,699, with a the 32-way version coming later this year.

  • The x450 uses Intel’s 1.5 Ghz Itanium 2 processor with 6MB of L3 cache
    memory and includes XpandOnDemand I/O,
    and OnForever availability. It will be available July 18 at an entry price
    of $28,599.

  • The eServer x382 includes up to 2 Itanium 2 processors in a 2U system
    optimized for the Linux cluster configurations
    for technical and scientific groups at a starting price $26,589 August 20.

IBM also said new Intel Xeon MP processors would be available for its rack
and tower systems, including the x360, x205, x225 and x255. Ideally, these
systems are geared to provide more modular flexibility for customers.
Available now, the x360 and x255 are available immediately, starting at
$7,059 and $6,610, respectively. The x205 will be available July 15 for $499
and the x225 will be ready for sale August 1 at $2,039.

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