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IBM touts new smaller servers

Big Blue is set to announce new servers that cram high-end technology into a tiny package.

IBM today will announce new servers that cram high-end technology into a tiny package.

IBM will introduce its 4500R "Illinois" system, a 5.25-inch thick rack-mountable system with two Pentium chips; its 6000R "Assault," a 7-inch thick rack-mountable four-processor system; and its 5100 "Omaha," a two-processor tower system with a price tag as low as $3,167.

Rack-mounted servers are becoming increasingly important as companies build Internet operations where floor space is at a premium. Though IBM produces a skinny 1.75-inch thick Netfinity 4000R server, that system doesn't offer some desired reliability features that can keep the server up and running, IBM marketing manager Alex Yost said.

As previously reported, the servers use chipsets from ServerWorks and offer several features from higher-end IBM server lines.

IBM's new Netfinity servers compete not only with market-leading Compaq Computer, but also with new six-processor systems from Hewlett-Packard and slim servers from Dell Computer as well.

IBM is pushing to make hardware less susceptible to failure through a variety of means, including the ability to change fans, cards, power supplies and disk drives without shutting off the system. In addition, the servers contain "chipkill" technology, which lets the memory system keep on working even when a module fails. Chipkill has also become cheaper because it no longer requires special IBM memory, Yost said.

But hardware is only responsible for a third as many problems as software, an International Data Corp. study found, Yost said.

To address software problems, IBM is adding "software rejuvenation" features that accommodate problems with Windows 2000 and Windows NT. Those operating systems gradually become less stable as computing tasks that are supposed to be finished don't quite let go of all the resources that they used, such as memory. For that reason, many organizations periodically restart their Windows machines.

Right now, software rejuvenation means simply a feature that lets Windows computers automatically restart themselves periodically. In the fourth quarter, the servers will monitor the operating system as well as several popular server software packages to judge more intelligently when they need to be rebooted, Yost said.

In 2001, IBM plans to extend this software rejuvenation feature to Novell operating systems. Linux is due for the same in 2002, he said.

The 4500R price starts at $3,700. The 6000R will start at $7,000 and will be available in May.