IBM's New p5 Servers Appeal To Channel Server Consolidation

Unveiled Tuesday, the eServer p5 servers--based on IBM's new POWER5 multicore processors--feature micro-partitioning, which allows a single Power5 processor to be divided into 10 logical partitions (LPARs), or virtual servers. These virtual servers, which have their own virtual I/O, can be dynamically provisioned, increased or shrunk automatically to meet business needs, said Karl Freund, vice president of pSeries products at IBM.

When the new p5 servers ship late next month, they will support the current AIX 5L 5.2 Unix operating system, making them compatible with more than 3,600 applications, Freund said. At the same time, IBM will release AIX 5L 5.3, which is binary compatible with version 5.2, enabling legacy applications to run without the need for recompiling, he said. Version 5.3 will increase performance and support the new virtualization features. In addition, the servers will support SUSE Linux, Red Hat Linux and--on certain models--IBM's i5/OS.

The different operating systems can run on separate LPARs within the same processor, according to Freund. "This is important, as customers test applications for new operating-system environments," he said. "They can run an application on part of a processor while carving out resources to test a new version of the application on another part."

IBM channel partners said the granularity of the p5 servers' virtualization will help customers consolidate multiple servers into fewer platforms.

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Scott Bisbee, brand manager at Champion Solutions, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based solution provider, said IBM is moving Unix to a mainframe-like environment with micro-partitioning, a key capability in server consolidation. "If customers can collapse multiple computing resources or application services to one or to fewer servers, they save on such costs as management and database licensing and maintenance costs," he said.

Features in AIX 5L 5.3 will help turn that partitioning into a cost-accountability feature, especially as customers take advantage of capacity-on-demand functions, Bisbee said. "AIX 5L 5.3 has accounting capabilities that let it see who is using what resources at what time and bill [the users] internally for the resources," he said.

The p5 servers' pay-as-you-grow functionality is a big plus as well, Bisbee added. Customers can start as small with a four-way server and then add new modules without disrupting operations, he said.

Such capabilities are the last step before the implementation of a true, utility-based computing solution, in which resources are parceled out to whomever needs them, according to Bisbee. "This stuff is for real," he said.

Wesley Hull, CEO of Paaridian Technologies, an Atlanta-based IBM partner, called the p5 a "game changing technology" for IBM. Workload management tools, which have been available for the pSeries servers since AIX 4.3, should take a big leap forward in helping customers meet SLA commitments with the introduction of AIX 5L 5.3, he said. Whereas such tools currently help balance multiple processes within a single LPAR, 5.3 will eventually allow management across multiple LPARs.

"[Such tools] manage the processes and shuffle them between LPARs," Hull said.

The p5 servers should make competitors' lives miserable and IBM channel partners lives wonderful, Freund said. "The industry is always leapfrogging in the Unix space. HP beats Sun [Microsystems], IBM beats [Hewlett-Packard], HP beats IBM. Now we're leapfrogging ourselves," he said.

IBM plans to release three p5 server versions on Aug. 31. The p5-520 will be a two-way, entry-level server with 1.65GHz POWER5 processors and up to 32 Gbytes of memory and carry a starting price of $12,920. The p5-550, starting at $22,100, will scale to a four-way system with up to 64 Gbytes of memory. And the p5-570 will scale to up to 16 1.9GHz processors and sport a starting price of $25,928. IBM said it also will offer a p5-570 Express model with 1.5GHz processors.