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IBM promises less server mess

Big Blue says its new interconnect will simplify the installation of large numbers of rack-mount eServers by eliminating some of the cables used to connect the machines.

IBM on Friday unveiled new technology that aims to simplify how servers are installed by cutting through the mess of connecting cables.

The new technology, called Advanced Connectivity Technology (ACT), will streamline the deployment of large numbers of IBM's 3.5-inch eServers. Rack-mounted servers, which resemble a pizza box in size and thickness, offer the same computing power as a standalone server.

These more compact machines allow companies to locate a large amount of computing power in a central location, which in turn lowers the cost of operating the machines, which are used to store data or conduct transactions over computer networks.

"We've seen a huge shift in our customers and in the marketplace from tower servers to rack-dense servers," said Jeff Benck, director of marketing for xSeries servers. "In 2003, we'll see more rack servers sold than towers."

Aside from IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and several others manufacturers all have various rack-mounted server models. The space is so hot that even Apple Computer has made a recent entry, with its rack-mounted Xserve machine.

As the competition for customers intensifies, these manufacturers will look to technology to differentiate themselves.

ACT allows customers to simplify the arrangement of groups of up to 256 servers, IBM said. The technology allows the machines to connect to one another, instead of linking directly to a switch that attaches a keyboard, monitor and mouse to the servers. Previously, one switch was required for every 16 servers, while each server had to be connected directly to its respective switch using a cable.

The result, IBM says, is a customer could save up to $60,000 in switch hardware alone in a 256-server deployment.

Meanwhile, the technology uses standard cables to run between each server, which helps to lower cost some more and simplify the layout of a rack of servers by reducing the overall length and number of cables.

Customers can choose from one of two ACT switches. IBM's Local Consol Manager switch can control up to 64 servers and costs $759. IBM's Remote Console Manager controls up to 256 servers and grants remote access to multiple users. It costs $4,699.

ACT was developed from a similar technology used to administer its 1.75-inch thick or "1U" servers, the company said.

"We think this is a great example of how IBM is leveraging technology to produce a solution that is less expensive," Benck said.

Meanwhile, IBM on Friday introduced a new 2U server, the eServer x345.

The new machine, which is capable of running two Intel Xeon processors, includes space for up to six hard drives and five PCI slots. Its price will start at $2,799.