IBM debuts new Linux-only server

Big Blue will announce a new low-end server Wednesday, its first Power processor-based system that can run the Linux operating system without needing IBM's AIX as well.

Stephen Shankland
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Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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IBM will announce a new low-end server Wednesday, its first Power processor-based system that can run the Linux operating system without needing IBM's AIX as well.

IBM's pSeries machines already are available with Linux but have also required AIX, IBM's version of Unix. Now, as expected, Big Blue has modified Linux sufficiently that its p630 servers will start up without AIX.

The p630 is the lowest-end product to use IBM's 64-bit Power4 processor, and Big Blue is positioning the product as a lower-cost Linux alternative to Hewlett-Packard's Itanium-based offerings. Itanium, like Power4 and Sun Microsystems' UltraSparc, is a 64-bit processor that can communicate with much larger amounts of memory.

IBM acknowledges there isn't much of a market yet for Linux on the pSeries machines, but it hopes experimental customers such as those needing to perform scientific calculations will gravitate toward the new p630 systems.

A single-processor p630 costs $15,477 with 2GB of memory; adding SuSE's version of Linux tacks on about $1,250. The same system with AIX costs $16,977 but has flexible configuration options the Linux system lacks.

IBM is taking advantage of Linux's ability to run on numerous processors, moving it to all four of its major server lines.

"IBM has pursued a path of viewing Linux as a high-tech Esperanto," a language that will bring some unity to its disparate products, said Sageza Group analyst Charles King.

But it's not easy to run Linux outside its mainstream base of computers using Intel Pentium and Xeon processors. IBM is carrying much of the load in making sure software is available for the pSeries systems--not just Linux itself but also programming tools, Java software and its DB2 database.

Some software partners are coming aboard, though. Red Hat, the No. 1 seller of Linux, has agreed to release a version of its high-end Advanced Server product for all four IBM server lines.

While Linux boots on several Power-based systems, this is the first time IBM has offered the Linux-only option as a product, the company said.