IBM adopts AMD chips for more servers

IBM said Tuesday it will add two blades and three rack servers to its family of computers powered by processors from Advanced Micro Devices.

New to the lineup are the BladeCenter LS21 and LS41 blade servers and the System x3455, System x3655 and System x3755.

IBM has carried systems based on chips from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) since 2003, but competitors like Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard have sold wider ranges of x86 servers.

"HP has had a broader product line, but after today there are no excuses," said Jeff Benck, a spokesman for IBM.

The new servers will use AMD's "Rev F" Opteron processor, giving them an advantage over products like Sun's new SunFire line, which uses the older Rev E design, Benck said.

The Rev F will bring improved virtualization, an upgrade from DDR1 to DDR2 memory, and quad-core capability for future expansion, said AMD spokesman Phil Hughes. AMD plans to formally unveil the Rev F chip on Aug. 15, but has already begun shipping it to vendors.

The announcement was a big win for AMD, which has steadily gained market share with its Opteron design, but has seen rival Intel challenge that momentum with the recent launch of new server chips.

IBM also hopes to sell the servers based on their power efficiency. The company predicts that by 2007 data centers will be forced to spend more money on power and cooling than on new server acquisitions.

The new family uses a collection of hardware and software technologies called Cool Blue, capable of running the servers with 40 percent better performance per watt than competing blade chassis, said Susan Whitney, general manager of IBM's System x server group.

The system reduces server heat emissions by chilling discharged air with a water-cooled door that covers the back of each rack. That helps the new servers take full advantage of the new chips.

The LS21 is a two-chip blade server optimized for high performance computing such as scientific research and financial services, while the LS41 can scale up to four chips for larger enterprise applications such as data warehouses and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

The System x computers are designed for applications ranging from database and Linux clusters for the model 3455, video on demand and IP (Internet protocol) television for the model 3655, and large enterprise tasks like weather simulation for the 3755.

IBM will announce product pricing and availability during the third quarter, once AMD launches its Rev F chip, formally called the Next-Generation Opteron.

Some customers have adopted early versions of the new servers, using them for tasks like providing online real estate information for Move, processing wireless text messages for Iris Wireless, and simulating wind drag on Formula One race cars for Red Bull Racing.

IBM designed the new products based on feedback from users at investment firms, who prefer blade servers to rack servers to support their sales and trading applications, said Jeffrey Birnbaum, a technology analyst and former IT executive for a Wall Street investment firm.

Compared to "rack and stack" components, blade servers can simplify the components in a data center, reduce power draw by using shared components, and reduce costs by aggregating network bandwidth, he said.

The new BladeCenter LS41 fills an important gap in IBM's product catalog by meeting those needs, and by allowing users to easily expand from a two-chip to a four-chip server, Birnbaum said.

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