IBM unveils first Power5 servers

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IBM this week unveiled the first servers that run its new Power5 processor.

The eServer i5 -- a new line in the iSeries server family -- relies on the 64-bit Power5, the successor to the Power4 CPU, and delivers two to three times better performance than current models, according to Ian Jarman, IBM's product manager for the i5.

Available in two models -- the 520 and 570 -- the i5 targeted small- and medium-sized businesses, and mid-sized enterprises, respectively, said Jarman, and would also be the first IBM servers to include the Virtualization Engine technology announced last week.

"Virtual Engine's logical partitioning technology allows customers to divide the i5's processors, automatically adjust performance on those partitions, and run our Unix, AIX, alongside the native operating system, i5/OS," said Jarman.

The Power5 processor was better able to slice and dice virtual partitions than the Power4; each of the former chips can run as many as 10 separate operating systems, compared to the one-OS-per-CPU capability of the Power4, according to IBM.

The i5 servers boast a refreshed version of AS/400, the operating system that runs IBM's minicomputers, now dubbed the iSeries, that bears the new name of i5/OS.

Other operating systems, including Linux on Power and Intel chips, and Windows on the Intel platform, could also be integrated into the i5 using IBM's virtualisation technology.

"Customers will be able to integrate their [Intel-based, Windows OS] xSeries servers into the i5 chassis," said Jarman, "by plugging them into the i5 chassis. Think of it as a blade if you like. The xSeries servers will be able to share security, management tools, and storage in that chassis."

"More and more in the last couple of years, IBM has been positioning the iSeries as a consolidation server," said Charles King, the research director at Sageza Group, a research firm. "This OS flexibility is something that Intel-based servers just can't match."

The lower-priced i5 520, which replaces the current iSeries 800, can sport one or two processors, while the more expensive 570 maxes out as a four-way system.

Both boast prices lower than earlier iSeries servers -- which got their own price cuts last week -- in an effort to make the line more cost competitive, said Jarman. "We've cut prices by about 40 percent," he said, "by changing our pricing model for memory and drives to bring them in line with Unix-based servers."

"There's some pretty neat stuff in the i5, and although in a way this is a natural evolutionary step for IBM, one of the most interesting things about the i5 is that its price is getting down to compete with Wintel boxes," said King.

The 520's pricing starts at US$9995 for a base server with one processor and one drive, while the 570 begins at US$85,200.

Although the lower price of the i5 wasn't yet a critical issue to competitors -- King said that if Dell or HP see the iSeries as a threat, they'd respond in kind -- IBM has only to come close to the competition to win the day. "IBM wins if they can get the price down to 5 or 10 percent of an Intel solution," he said, because the i5 gives companies the choice of thousands of OS/400 applications, as well as those running on Unix, Linux, or even Windows.

Also new to the iSeries with the introduction of the 520 was an Express offering, IBM's initiative to offer ready-to-roll systems hardware and software bundles to small businesses.

The 520 Express Edition includes 1GB of memory, a 70GB drive, tape drive and DVD, as well as such IBM software as its DB2 database and WebSphere Web application server. The one-way server bundle costs US$11,500.

"We're after new customers in small business," said Jarman with the 520 Express, a system he said was taking aim at the Intel-Windows servers that currently dominate that market.

The 570, meanwhile, offered new capacity-on-demand functions that allowed enterprises to purchase additional processors, but not pay for them until they're needed.

With capacity-on-demand, a customer could purchase a two-way 570 that actually shipped with four processors. The additional CPUs could be activated when demand goes up; during the holiday selling season, for instance.

A new feature, dubbed Reserve Capacity On Demand by IBM, also debuts in the i5 570. "It's like a reserve tank of gas in your car," said Jarman. "You buy the reserve capability up front -- in blocks of 30 processor days, for example, and when the system reaches 100 capacity, it automatically shifts to that reserve without any operator intervention." Each 24 hours, the server does a status check and if the capacity is no longer needed, the reserve is automatically switched off.

Both the i5 520 and 570 are just the beginning of IBM's plans for the Power5, said Jarman. A 16-way iSeries server using the new processor would debut before the end of the year, he said, and the current pSeries family -- IBM's Unix-based servers that run the Power4++processor -- will be retired during 2004 as p5 models make it to market.

"The i5 should open the eyes of those that thought this [iSeries] was an old-fashioned machine," concluded King.

The iSeries 520 and 570 will be available starting 11 June.

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