IBM adds oomph to Windows, Linux servers

IBM last week unveiled servers that will let Windows and Linux shops exploit the kinds of fault-tolerance and scalability features more commonly found in mainframes and high-end Unix machines.

The company's eServer xSeries machines, previously known by the name "Summit," are designed to give customers a new way to centralize their computing systems and support more demanding applications.

The first xSeries machine will ship in a 3U (5.25-inch high) configuration and come powered by up to 16 Intel Corp. Foster processors, the next iteration of Intel's 32-bit architecture. That's twice as many processors as are found in comparable servers from Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. Later versions of the xSeries machines will run on Intel's upcoming 64-bit McKinley processors.

The new servers support Windows NT, 2000 and DataCenter, as well as Linux, and can be partitioned by processor to increase performance. For instance, if a company needs to support increased seasonal Web traffic, it could assign four processors to run Linux-based Web services on the front end and a dozen others to handle a SQL Server database on the back end. This sort of partitioning has mainly been reserved for high-end Unix systems until now.

"They will fit well into Wintel environments that require online transaction processing or large databases and provide and alternative to IBM's PowerPC-based Unix servers," says James Gruener, an analyst with market research firm The Yankee Group.

Among the mainframe technologies injected into IBM's new servers is ChipKill, which lets memory errors be corrected automatically. Another technology, Active PCI-X, lets IT managers replace PCI or PCI-X adapters without shutting servers down.

The new servers also feature L4 cache, which increases the amount of data that can be held in memory, thus increasing performance. The servers also include Remote I/O, the capability to connect an external box up to eight meters away that allows the attachment of multiple I/O devices to the server. Remote I/O also supports the emerging InfiniBand fast bus technology.

The server also has memory mirroring, which lets memory be swapped out when it is found to be defective or malfunctioning without taking down the system.

IBM plans to ship its new servers when Intel releases its Foster processors early next year. IBM has not released pricing information.

In a separate announcement, IBM announced that it is selling preconfigured Linux clusters. A minimally configured cluster consists of two nodes, including an eServer xSeries 330 and 342 server, IBM's General Parallel File System clustering software and installation, testing and service support. IBM will package clusters ranging from two all the way up to 1,000 nodes. An eight-node cluster costs US$85,000.

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