Internal Switch, Copper Chip Pump IBM Unix Servers

Much of the increased performance in IBM Corp.'s recently introduced high-end Unix servers comes from its new copper-based chip technology and an internal switch that more than doubles data transfer speeds between the CPU and memory.

Also lending a boost is a new release of the AIX operating system that's capable of supporting up to 24 processors. The operating system features a new workload manager that allows users to consolidate and manage multiple workloads on a single server, said Jeff VerHeul, a vice president of servers at IBM.

IBM has enhanced its Unix server lineup with new models and software aimed at enterprise and Internet applications. At the high end, the company introduced the RS/6000 S80, a 24-processor system based on IBM's 450MHz PowerPC RS64 III copper chip.

The system, with an entry price of US$290,000, comes with support for up to 64G bytes of memory, up to 45T bytes of external storage and nearly three times the raw performance of its predecessor, the Model S70A, according to IBM.

"The new servers give us the ability to scale greatly," said Hugh Hale, senior manager of information systems at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee in Chattanooga.

The company recently installed a 12-way S80 server to accommodate a growing workload that would have pushed its existing S70 servers to capacity in about four months' time, Hale said.

"With this, I don't have to worry about headroom" for some time, he added.

Similar scalability concerns are prompting Ursus Telecom Corp. in Sunrise, Florida, to consider the new servers for hosting its Stream.com Internet telephony site, according to Jay Chavez, a vice president at the company.

IBM's use of copper technology in its PowerPC chips contributes about 10 percent to the overall performance gain on the new servers, said VerHeul. Because copper is a better conductor than aluminum and requires less power, the new chips are smaller and yield greater processing speed than previous ones. An 8M-byte error-checking and error-correcting cache memory integrated on each chip also adds to the performance and reliability, VerHeul said.

A high-performance "nonblocking cross-bar switch" configuration delivers 4.8G-byte data transfer speeds between each CPU and memory module -- substantially greater than before.

"Think of these switches as multiple elevators going to multiple floors on a building. Previously, there was just one elevator going to multiple floors," VerHeul said.

Meanwhile, the workload manager on AIX 4.3.3 -- the latest release of IBM's Unix operating system -- automatically assigns system resources as workloads change, allowing users to set priorities for important applications. For instance, a Web-serving application that's running on a new RS/6000 system can be automatically assigned additional CPU resources whenever traffic to the site increases suddenly.

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