IBM expands use of server chip

Big Blue brings its top server chip--the spearhead of its assault to regain market share lost to Sun--to its iSeries line.

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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
IBM has brought its top server chip to a second of its server lines--the iSeries--Big Blue announced Monday.

iSeries servers, which run IBM's OS/400 and which were formerly called AS/400 servers, typically are sold with tightly integrated software for tasks such as e-commerce, inventory control or customer databases. Until now, the systems used processors that were similar but not identical to those of the Unix servers.

The Power4 processor first debuted late last year in IBM's p690 "Regatta" machine, the new top-of-the-line model in the pSeries Unix server family. The chip is the spearhead of Big Blue's assault to regain market share lost to Sun Microsystems and to capitalize on server problems at Hewlett-Packard. It differs from other chips in its class in that it contains two processors, allowing it to perform like two chips rather than one.

IBM's new i890 iSeries server can use as many as 32 Power4 processors, and the system has twice the computing power of the former top-end i840 product, IBM said. With the Power4, the i890 will be able to provide the functional performance of 64 standard server chips. HP, Sun and Intel are all working on dual-core products, but most of these won't come out until next year or later.

Bringing the new processor to the iSeries shows IBM's support for this least visible of its server lines. It can be difficult to sustain server research and marketing; HP is phasing out its venerable 3000 line, which was getting squeezed out of the market. IBM's iSeries is better established than the HP 3000, however. IBM estimates 750,000 iSeries servers have been shipped so far.

The i890 has a starting price of $1.5 million, with typical configurations closer to $2 million, spokesman Glen Brandow said.

Initial shipments will begin June 14, with the product generally available worldwide in August.

The i890 will run a new release of OS/400, version 5 release 2 (V5R2), IBM said. The new version has features for managing storage systems so overall downtime is reduced; the ability to run multiple DB2 databases; and support plug-in hardware to accelerate transmission of secure Web pages.

The i890--like its iSeries predecessors, and like newer pSeries Unix servers and zSeries mainframes--can be divided into several "partitions," essentially independent servers within the same hardware. The feature is useful for companies consolidating the work of numerous smaller servers onto a single centralized system.

These partitions can run OS/400 or Linux and in the future will be able to run AIX, IBM's version of Unix. IBM is vocally advocating Linux, which can simplify the task of running software across all IBM's server lines.

IBM also has a sequel to the Power4 in the works. In two years, the company plans to introduce the Power5, which will include a technology called "Fast Path" that lets the chip take over some tasks currently handled in software, such as packaging data to be sent to networks.