IBM Details Up Modular Servers

Trying to apply pressure to the lower end of rival Sun Microsystems's server line, IBM this week will release a rack-mountable, two-processor unit that features an on-board service processor and a new cable chaining design that makes it significantly easier to physically configure.

Priced at $US4,500 in its basic configuration, the new xSeries 330 is aimed primarily at Web-based service providers, such as ISPs, who place a high value on being able to easily add new servers to rack-mount configurations to accommodate rapidly growing businesses, IBM officials said.

"We have been selling a lot of thin servers [1.75-in. thick] like this to ISPs, because they can just slide them in on the fly as they take on new customers," said Brandon Paget, product marketing manager for IBM's xSeries, formally the Netfinity Series, of servers, in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The new system can accommodate two Pentium III 866 or 933 processors and, for the first time in a thin-server configuration, 1GHz Intel processors. The new system can be put into a rack capable of now hosting as much as 84GHz of computing power.

Company officials claim that in comparable configurations, the X330 offers about three times more computing power for about one third the cost of Sun's Netra servers.

"We would like to send a message with this [model 330] to Sun that we think the days of higher-priced, proprietary servers is coming to an end," Paget said.

The 330 contains the Advanced Server Processor, which is built onto the motherboard. This makes it possible for IT professionals to manage an entire rack of 42 servers from a single remote connection. This allows users to save thousands of dollars per server and frees up PCI slots, Paget contended.

All of the system's service processors are connected through a dedicated management link so they can monitor all of the unit's components, including the CPU, power supplies, fans, and disk drives.

The service processors can also relay information back about the server's condition to ensure it is running at peak performance and that its reliability is maintained.

The 330's C2T cable chaining design eliminates 70 percent of connections, with one digital cable taking the place of 53 cables and 282 connectors per rack. It also replaces six keyboard, video, and mouse switches and associated cables per rack.

The CRT design, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM contends, allows servers to be installed in half the time it would take IT managers to install more traditional rack mounts.

Besides the Pentium III chips and Advanced System Management Processor, the system's basic configuration includes a Level Two 256KB cache, 256MB of ECC (error-correcting code) memory, two PCI I/O slots, three bays including two slim-high, hot plug bays, and enhanced Light Path Diagnostics.

Users can order the system beginning Oct. 20 with either Windows 2000 or with several best-selling versions of Linux, including those sold by Red Hat Inc., Caldera Systems Inc., and TurboLinux Inc.

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