IBM Intros X4 ‘Tigerton’-Based Servers

Corrected: IBM today announced the next generation of servers in its X-Architecture line, built on Intel’s forthcoming “Tigerton” family of Xeon processors. The X4 server promises to be fully buzzword-compliant: faster, more power efficient and ready for virtualization environments.

The System x3950 M2 will be the first to use the X4 chipset, which is designed to address the shortcomings of Intel  chipset designs. The third-generation chipset, X3, was introduced in 2005. It was optimized for server consolidation and enterprise application software, and it gave rise to widespread adoption of server virtualization solutions.

It introduced a new type of technology to address latency called a “snoop filter.” Data addresses are usually stored on the cache, right next to the processor, so the CPU can use it again. But if another CPU wanted that data, the machine would literally have to check all of its memory to find the data.

The snoop filter was intelligence for the multiple processors in a system to find data anywhere, without having to search every processor cache. It also improved performance of the memory controller and frontside bus to remove latency there, according to Jay Bretzmann, manager of product marketing at IBM .

X4 will double that performance, plus there’s the bonus of better performance from Tigerton. The Tigerton processor and the Caneland chipset introduce a new microarchitecture. X3 and the Xeons that ran on it were based on Intel’s aging NetBurst architecture. X4 and Tigerton are based on the Core architecture, which is considerably faster.

The X4 will have four parallel frontside buses instead of one bus for all processors. The bus speed has been bumped from 667MHz or 800MHz to 1066MHz, and the X4 can support up to 16 processors.* It will also support 32 memory slots, double the 16 slots supported on the X3 generation.

The System x3950 M2 server will feature new hypervisor capabilities for deploying virtual servers right out of the box. “Virtualization is kinda key because there are only so many apps out there that can scale to lots of threads,” said Bretzmann. “Classic x86 apps don’t kick off lots of parallel threads. So you virtualize the server to host many of those apps.”

But the X4’s virtualization technology is based on a pretty big leap of faith. Chip-based, or “embedded,” virtualization software preloaded on a 4GB USB Flash storage device will be loaded when the system starts up. Just plug the drive into a USB port on the server when you boot it.

It’s designed to make it easier for customers to adopt virtualization by just plugging in the USB key. But given how easy it is to slip it into your pocket, isn’t it also possible to bring this expensive server to a halt by walking off with the key?

“I don’t see it as vulnerable,” Bretzmann told “There’s lots of ways to secure and lock down a datacenter; we don’t think those keys will get out.”

Thanks to advances in technology, IBM claims the server will consume 25 to 35 percent less power than a comparably equipped server from another vendor, because it uses standard SDRAM, whereas most servers use fully buffered DIMMs, which consume more power.

IBM also added a memory protection feature called “Protexion,” which prevents the whole system from crashing should a DIMM fail. Two whole DIMMs in a bank can fail and it still will not crash. “Think of it as RAID5 technology for memory,” said Bretzmann.

The IBM System x3950 M2 server will be available in volume starting in the fourth quarter of 2007.

* Corrects a statement that Windows can only support 16 processors in a system. The 32-bit version of Windows can support 32 processors while the 64-bit version supports 64 processors.

News Around the Web