IBM rolls out Xeon MP server

IBM Corp. on Wednesday put its muscle behind the newest Intel Corp. Xeon MP processors with the introduction of a Xeon MP-based server called the eServer x440. Debuting as a four-way or eight-way system, the x440 will eventually support 16 processors within a single unit.

The x440 is capable of running a variety of data-intensive applications, from stand-alone database programs to multiple applications running simultaneously across partitioned processors. Partitioning can create the effect of multiple, or virtual servers within the x440, said Tom Bradicich, a distinguished engineer for IBM in Armonk, N.Y.

IBM is pitching the new x440 to companies that need a big iron multiprocessor server as well as companies looking to consolidate multiple smaller servers into a single system such as the x440.

Similar to this week's wave of Intel Xeon MP-powered server announcements from other server vendors, IBM's x440 was designed to take advantage of the latest Intel chips, Bradicich said.

Intel on Tuesday released two new Xeon MP chips, running at speeds of 1.4GHz and 1.6GHz and designed for servers with four or more processors. A Xeon chip for one- and two-way servers was launched only a few weeks ago by Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif.

Calling the x400 and its Intel-based, commodity hardware platform "standards on steroids," Bradicich said the x440 is also ideal for clustering groups of servers together. Customers can purchase four-way-processor versions of the x440, use the server until its workload nears capacity, then buy an additional four-way x440, hook it up side-by-side, and cluster the servers for added performance and fail-over protection, Bradicich said.

Hot-swappable components such as fans, processors, and memory ensure maximum uptime from the x440. IBM's eLiza "self-healing" technology is also part of the x440, helping to detect errors in the server's hardware and software before a failure can actually happen.

Remote I/O features such as a remote expansion cable on the x440 enable users to attach up to 12 PCI or PCI-X I/O adapters from several yards away.

Advanced caching inside the x440 makes the new IBM server's performance 15 percent to 20 percent better than Xeon MP-based systems from competing vendors, according to Bradicich.

IBM has billed the x440 as a 16-way server, but until July 2002 the x440 will only be available running up to eight processors at a time, according to IBM.

This disappoints experts such as Joseph Zhou, a senior analyst with D.H. Brown and Associates, in Port Chester, N.Y., who praised IBM for being first to market with an eight-way Xeon-based server for the mid-range market, but expected more from IBM with this first Xeon MP-based product launch.

"In this release, the x440 only goes up to eight-ways in single-node configuration, and that is not what the industry expected," Zhou said. "We expected more scalable configurations up to 16-way." Zhou added that IBM's Enterprise X chip set architecture was "supposed to scale up to 16 ways."

"IBM was supposed to have the 16-way chip set in the first half of this year, and they were supposed to have it in this release, so us analysts are a little disappointed," Zhou said.

An eight-way x440 with 16GB of SDRAM starts for just under US$50,000. A two-way x440 can be had as low as $18,000, according to IBM.

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