IBM to launch new Unix server for building clusters

IBM will bring out a new Unix server next month that allows users to cram over 100 of its most powerful processors into a single system, the company announced last Friday.

IBM will release the new p655 server in early December and make the system a central piece in the company's hardware strategy targeted at the high-performance computing market. Customers will be able to link both four-processor and eight-processor models of the p655 to form a 128-processor system that fits in a single rack, said Peter Ungaro, vice president of high-performance computing at IBM. Armed with IBM's well-respected Power4 processor, the p655 will challenge similar systems built with chips from Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp.

"This is targeted at medium to large customers whose workloads are best managed with clusters," said Brad Day, a vice president at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "That could be high-performance computing or business intelligence types of workloads."

The p655 uses much of the same technology found in IBM's high end p690 server, including 1.1GHz and 1.3GHz Power4 chips and the latest version of the AIX operating system. Unlike the much larger p690, however, users can link numerous p655s together via IBM's SP Switch interconnect to form a cluster or group of servers that act as one system.

These types of server clusters are often used to handle compute intensive jobs of both researchers and private companies. They handle tasks such as protein modelling or automobile design.

IBM is expected to release another version of the p655 some time next year that uses new Power4+ chips that run at 1.7GHz, Day said.

IBM is also selling server clusters based on Intel's Itanium 2 and Xeon processors, but claims that the Power4-based systems are best suited for the most demanding types of workloads.

"If our customers need the most performance they can get, it's very simple," Ungaro said. "You just go to Power4."

IBM will offer several software packages with the cluster, including its Cluster Systems Management (CSM) management suite and General Parallel File System (GPFS). In addition, Oracle Corp.'s 9i Real Application Clusters (RAC) software will likely appear at some point in the future for the new server, Day said.

A four processor p655 with 1.3GHz chips and 4G bytes of memory will start at US$73,485, Ungaro said.

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