IBM's Power5 chip is a 64-bit processor that competes with high-end chips from Intel, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard. Its introduction begins the last step in the convergence of two IBM server lines, iSeries and pSeries, which now use identical hardware and are differentiated only by the operating system and other software.
IBM on Monday will introduce its first Power5-based iSeries models, the i5 520, with one or two processors, and the i5 570, with one to four processors, sources said. The new systems will bring lower prices to the iSeries lineage--with one 520 model, which will include versions of IBM's WebSphere e-commerce software and its DB2 database, costing $11,500.
"It's a declaration of war against Intel, Dell, Microsoft and Oracle under cover of a value announcement for customers," said RedMonk analyst James Governor. It's a war IBM can fight effectively because it can supply all the necessary hardware and software to compete directly with those rivals, he said.
It's only the opening salvo in the Power5-based "Squadron" server launch, however. Later models will accommodate as many as 64 processors, with each processor able to execute simultaneously two instruction sequences called "threads."
IBM declined to comment for this story.
The iSeries line is a lower-profile member of IBM's server family. It's designed to appeal to customers who want a system with lots of software already built in--not just IBM's WebSphere and DB2 but also third-party packages from companies such as SAP.
Though some have expected IBM to eliminate the iSeries line the way HP is phasing out its HP3000 equivalent, Big Blue has strived to keep iSeries relevant--for example by adding the ability to run Linux and that operating system's software. And sharing hardware with the pSeries successor will make it still less isolated, since a single machine will be able to run Linux and either family's operating system simultaneously in separate partitions.
Power5 has better partition abilities than Power4, with each chip able to run as many as 10 separate operating systems instead of just one. That feature is handy for companies that want to consolidate several standalone machines that spend much of their time idling into a single server that's more efficiently used.
Competitors aren't idling, though, and have servers with partitioning capabilities of their own. Sun, after losing server market share to IBM, is trying to regain it with new servers based on its UltraSparc IV and its Solaris version of Unix. And HP is in league with Intel to push the Itanium processor for its servers, which can run Linux and Windows as well as the HP-UX version of Unix.
In 2000, IBM stamped the eServer brand on the entire server line, with four subbrands: the top-end zSeries mainframes, the pSeries Unix servers, the iSeries midrange servers and the xSeries Intel-based servers. The eServer brand has begun taking on more importance with the arrival of IBM's BladeCenter products, which feature a chassis that can accept thin "blade" servers from multiple server families, and with the arrival of the e325, whose Opteron processor from Advanced Micro Devices excludes it from the xSeries-Intel umbrella.
Starting Monday, the eServer brand will move one step closer to the front of the stage. The iSeries label that replaced AS/400 in 2000 will itself be phased out in favor of eServer i5, sources said. And though the OS/400 label for the operating system survived the 2000 rebranding, it now will be replaced with i5/OS, sources said.
IBM is expected to retire the pSeries brand in favor of eServer p5 once the Power5-based models start arriving, sources said.
Dropping brand names isn't a change to be made lightly, but IBM's name changes aren't just skin deep. Among examples of unification in IBM's server group: processor teams have been combined, the zSeries shares some hardware with the current pSeries and iSeries products, and software including DB2, WebSphere, Linux and the Tivoli management software spans the server product range. And Power5 is the foundation not just of the i5 and p5 lines but also of a new top-end storage system, IBM executives have said.
The first i5 520 and 570 products will be generally available June 11, sources said.
Then, in the third quarter, IBM is expected to introduce a new midrange model for cost-conscious buyers, the i5 550, with as many as four processors. Also at that time, the stacking of four-processor modules used in the i5 570 will extend that system to a 16-processor size.
For a given amount of performance, the i5 520 will cost about 30 percent less than its predecessor, the iSeries 820, sources said. And upgrades will cost customers less--with memory prices dropping 60 percent to 80 percent and disk storage prices dropping 20 percent to 30 percent.
"Don't get into a price war with IBM right now. It's like getting into a land war in Asia," Governor said.
IBM is better able than competitors to support cost cuts in one area with thicker profit margin elsewhere. "Every time they ship an Intel box, they have to give Intel money. With this one, there's no margin to pay anyone else. With this, IBM is in complete control of its own margins; it is beholden to no one."
The new operating system, i5/OS version V5R3, won't just run on the new models. It also will work with all iSeries and many AS/400 models, sources said.
The new servers incorporate technology called Hypervisor, lower-level software and hardware drawn from the mainframe line that handles tasks such as allocating memory and network resources to different partitions. Accompanying Hypervisor is interdomain networking, in which one partition on a server can communicate with another at much faster speeds than with an ordinary Ethernet network.
Like its predecessors, the i5 line also comes with technology called Integrated xSeries Server (IXS) that tightly binds an Intel-based server that can share the main server's networking resources. With i5, though, IXS technology now supports Linux as well as Microsoft Windows, a source said.