IBM unwraps speediest Unix server

IBM rolled out its fastest Unix server to date this week, the eServer p690.

Just one week after saying it will support Intel's Itanium 2 chip, Big Blue's new p690 is fueled by a 1.7 GHz version of the Power 4+ chip that features a built-in Level 3 cache. Company officials claim the new system is 65 percent faster than its predecessor, the eServer p655.

IBM plans to target the system primarily at users looking to both consolidate workloads and host industrial strength, single-system applications. Big Blue aims to steer users toward On Demand computing through raw processing speed and pricing models that allow users to turn processors on and off as capacity is needed on a temporary or permanent basis.

For the first-time, users using IBM's Memory On Demand capability can also install a variety of features with unused memory that can be activated in increments of 4GB, an IBM representative said.

"IBM first released the Power 4+ aimed at the lower end where Sun was very competitive. But with all the cost of the engineering (like SMP-on-a-chip) done, they can now more strategically release that chip at their mid- and high-range servers," said Brad Day, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "It gives them the full metal jacket against their competitors, particularly Sun."

Accompanying the higher-end p690 is the p670, a midrange Unix-based system powered by a 1.5 GHz Power 4+ chip that features the same I/O subsystem and cache improvements. In a third hardware unveiling the company rolled out a "cluster-optimized" eServer 655 with both the new 1.7 and the 1.5 GHz Power 4+ processor, Level 3 cache, and new I/O subsystems.

Some observers believe IBM has advanced its On Demand cause relative to Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. with the p690. The new servers, for instance, give IBM a strong stance and the pricing better matches the spirit of on-demand computing.

The two processors will be available on the p655 starting this July, a company spokesman said.

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