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Desktops

IBM's Intel servers to reach new high

Big Blue is expected on Monday to announce several new servers based on Intel chips, including two Itanium systems and a top-end Xeon system with 32 processors.

IBM is expected to announce on Monday several new servers based on Intel chips, including two Itanium systems and a top-end Xeon system with 32 processors.

The servers are the high-water mark thus far in IBM's years-long "X Architecture" plan to endow its Intel servers with some of the capabilities of its higher-end server lines, notably its venerable but expensive mainframes. Intel's Itanium processor is geared for higher-end "big iron" systems that handle demanding data-processing chores where IBM has long been top dog.

IBM's x450 has four of the 1.5GHz Itanium 2 6M processors--code-named Madison--that Intel is expected to announce Monday. IBM had already begun selling its x450 system in April with the earlier 1GHz "McKinley" version of Itanium, but Big Blue put that system on hold after an NEC server customer found a glitch in the chip.

IBM also sells its pServer and iServer lines based on its own Power chips as well as its zSeries mainframes. The company has been ambivalent about Itanium, but it eventually came around, said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff.

"Whatever spin IBM wants to put on it, there was obviously enormous ambivalence and disagreement within the company on whether to do that system. But the decision does seem to have been made that...IBM's going to go for it," Haff said. "They may not push it as aggressively as the pSeries for high-end commercial customers, but they do at least want to be able to cover that big-iron window of opportunity."

While Itanium relations haven't always been smooth sailing, another agreement between the two companies is expected to bear fruit. IBM and Intel are working together to design thin "blade" servers that fit into IBM's BladeCenter chassis.

Intel will begin shipping the blades in July, Bill Zeitler, head of IBM's server group, said in an interview. "What we want to do is create a standard, like the IBM PC, that will accelerate adoption," Zeitler said.

IBM is freely licensing the design, Zeitler said, and networking companies Cisco, Nortel and Brocade also are planning to support it. An Intel representative confirmed that the blade products are scheduled to begin arriving in the third quarter.

The x450 uses IBM's Enterprise X Architecture (EXA) chipset, code-named Summit, to join the four processors to memory. A relative of the x450 expected later this year will permit four-processor building blocks to be stacked together to form a 16-processor system.

The EXA chipset also has close relatives already in use for servers with Intel's Xeon processor. Xeon is a 32-bit design intended for lower-end and midrange servers, whereas Itanium is a 64-bit design that more easily supports large amounts of memory, has better features for multiprocessor systems and has mechanisms to protect against data corruption.

The first IBM Xeon servers using the EXA chipset were the four-processor x360 and the x440, which could grow from four to 16 processors. On Monday, IBM will reveal the successor to the x440, the x445.

As reported, the x445 will accommodate as many as 32 Xeon processors, though when the system begins shipping on July 1, it will come with up to only 16. The 32-processor version is due later this year.

While the 32-processor machine isn't likely to appeal to a large number of customers, it is likely to make the lesser versions more appealing, Haff said.

"What you often see with big systems is a lot of people would prefer not to buy the very largest. By having a 32-way, you make the 16-way that much more attractive," Haff said.

For customers building high-performance calculation machines out of clusters of lower-end systems, IBM also will introduce a rack-mountable two-processor Itanium 2 system called the x382 that's 3.5 inches thick.

The x445 has a starting price of $18,599. The x450, available July 18, will start at $25,999. The x382 will be available Aug. 20 starting at $26,589, IBM said. All the systems support Windows and Linux.

IBM also will upgrade several existing Xeon servers--the x360, x205, x225 and x255--with the new processors, the company said.