IBM Ups Server Ante

In just the first six weeks of this year, IBM has refreshed its entire server line, from "i to z." New offerings in the vendor's four key computing platforms--from x86-based blades to mainframes--start hitting the channel this month.

With new releases of its iSeries, pSeries and xSeries servers, and a new accelerator for its zSeries mainframe, IBM is focusing its server efforts on multicore processing, improved density and innovative power utilization and cooling technologies.

Perhaps the vendor's most notable debut, however, will be its next-generation BladeCenter Servers, which promise to up the ante for server flexibility.

The forthcoming BladeCenter H, due out this month with a starting price of $3,849, will allow blades with different processors to be interchanged.

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"The focus on the data center is going to be about simplification," says Bill Zeitel, senior vice president and group executive of IBM's Systems and Technology Group. The interchangeability of the new BladeCenter is a key feature, according to Brad Day, an analyst at Forrester.

"This is more the Swiss Army knife of blades, where you can interchangeably put [AMD-based] Opteron, [IBM] PowerPCs and Intel parts into one BladeCenter," he says. "That enables you to run every operating system."

The BladeCenter H will also include an autonomic management module, power management features and support for iSCSI-based storage. The BladeCenter H will be available with dual-core Intel Xeon blades, new dual-core PowerPC blades and an InfiniBand blade-switch module developed in partnership with Cisco. IBM also intends to offer, by the third quarter, a Cell-based blade, a 9-core system for high-performance computing. That product, based on the Cell Broadband Engine (Cell BE) processor, will be able to render graphics-intensive applications for medical imaging, mapping, mathematical computation and video-processing.

"They've taken an existing platform and expanded it, not just the performance but the flexibility as well," says Lew Johnson, president of New York-based Siwel Consulting.

IBM officials are hinting that an iSeries blade for the new chassis could come later in the year as well. Meanwhile, the new iSeries servers unveiled last month include new processors and an upgraded operating system to support 600 ISV applications. With a handful of new Power 5+-based Unix servers (for its pSeries), IBM unveiled its fastest system to date and brought to the fore its Quad Core Module (QCM) technology. IBM first introduced systems with QCM technology in 2005. Company officials said those servers sold well above expectations--an indication that users are gravitating to higher-end servers.

Other servers IBM unveiled include the System p5 185 Express, which has three bays and four available slots, and comes in either a desk-side or rack-mount form factor. Then there's the entry-level System p5 510 Express, a 2U rack-mount server capable of running IBM's Advanced Power Virtualization and integrated Virtualization Manager software.