New IBM Power5 Server Fires Linux Salvo At HP, Sun


IBM's new eServer OpenPower 720 has a Power5 processor designed to boost Linux performance, including features such as improved cache coherency and data lock, thanks to the company's close relationship with the Linux community and its 600-person Linux Tech Center, said Brian Connors, vice president of Linux on Power at IBM. An option to the 720 server, which starts at $4,999 for a one-way model, also allows up to 10 Linux micropartitions per processor, he said.

Customers who have already adopted Linux likely would be interested in the OpenPower 720 because they understand what it takes to work with the open-source operating system, said Phillip Hice, director of technical services at Computer Configuration Services, an Irvine, Calif.-based IBM solution provider. But for companies new to Linux, it may be difficult to understand the advantage of Linux on Power5 unless they research the subject carefully and see how reliable and flexible the Power platform is, he said.

"If they have been pushing Linux hard on a 386-based machine and are considering moving to Itanium, sure, they would consider Power5, but not a mom-and-pop shop looking at Linux because of the free operating system," Hice said.

IBM hopes to capitalize on what Connors said are customer concerns about Sun's commitment to Linux and HP's commitment to HP-UX Unix and PA-RISC processors.

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Though Sun controls nearly half of the entry-level Unix market, its customers question where the company is going with Solaris in that space, especially since Sun is also pushing Linux on its SPARC and Opteron servers, Connors said. HP, meanwhile, has left its customers "at the altar" with plans to abandon its PA-RISC processors, and the company's commitment to the HP-UX operating system also remains unclear, he added.

"For those customers that choose to go to Linux, they have choices," Connors said. "We're going to give them a leading enterprise-class platform [as another choice]."

Yet if IBM hoped HP and Sun would roll over and die after hearing about Linux on Power5, it instead has found out that the fight for the lead in this market has just begun.

HP officials said in an e-mailed statement that Open Source Linux on IBM's proprietary Power5 platform makes little sense because most Linux development is focused on industry-standard architectures such as x86 and Itanium.

In another e-mail statement, Sun officials said IBM is trying to get customers to go with a proprietary hardware implementation, which would give IBM a hardware lock on a customer's IT infrastructure. Also, because of the low volume of Power-based servers, there's little incentive for ISVs to switch from industry-standard servers, the e-mail said.

Customers will consider Linux on Power5 for the same reason they buy a Macintosh with its BSD-derived operating system or a PA-RISC unit running HP-UX: because it meets their needs, Hice said. "It's not that [much] more proprietary than running Linux on any [IBM] pSeries server in partitions," he said.

The OpenPower 720 represents IBM's latest server salvo aimed at HP and Sun. Last week, Big Blue unveiled its second Advanced Micro Devices Opteron-based server as part of a move to draw Opteron attention away from its two rivals.