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IBM plans July launch of Power5 Unix server

Big Blue is set to kick off the second phase of the debut of its Power5 processors July 13, sources say.

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Stephen Shankland
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IBM plans to announce its new generation of Unix servers July 13, kicking off the second phase of the debut of its Power5 processors, sources said.

Big Blue is expected to announce models with two, four and 16 processors, sources familiar with the plans said. Later, IBM will sell a top-end 64-processor system, but that model isn't expected this quarter.

IBM declined to comment for this report.

Big Blue has long run in third place in the fiercely competitive Unix server market, trailing leader Sun Microsystems and second-place Hewlett-Packard. But IBM has been gaining Unix share: In 2003, IBM's revenue grew 13 percent to $4.1 billion, while Sun's shrank 16 percent to $5.4 billion and HP's shrank 4 percent to $5.3 billion, according to research firm Gartner.

IBM is converging two server lines, the pSeries models that run IBM's AIX version of Unix and the iSeries line that runs OS/400 and its successor, i5/OS. The two lines have been growing closer for years, but with the launch of the Power5-based systems, the hardware is identical. Through technology called "partitioning," a single system can run AIX, i5/OS and Linux.

Big Blue launched its first Power5-based systems with i5/OS in May, emphasizing the increasing unification in its server group by dropping the iSeries label in favor of eServer i5.

The AIX systems will follow a similar naming convention with the eServer p5 name. For example, the 16-processor models will be called the i5 570 or the p5 570, depending on whether they're sold with an i5/OS or AIX focus.

Like the existing Power4 models, Power5 includes two processing units on each slice of silicon, a design called "dual-core." However, each Power5 core can run two separate sequences of instructions, called "threads," making each slice of silicon function somewhat like four conventional processors.

The Power5 processors are expected to be offered at speeds of 1.5GHz, 1.65GHz and 1.9GHz, sources familiar with the products said. They're built on a manufacturing process that permits chip with features 130 nanometers (billionths of a meter) wide, though a coming Power5+ version will be built with a 90-nanometer process that should allow smaller, faster and cooler chips.

The chips also take a step beyond the Power4 models in partitioning. Where Power4 could accommodate one operating system per processor, Power5 can handle as many as 10, a technology IBM calls "micro-partitioning." For example, a p5 570 can simultaneously run 160 separate operating systems.

IBM has decades of partitioning experience with its mainframe line, but Sun pioneered the technique for Unix servers, a larger market. A key part of IBM's p5 and i5 partitioning is called HyperVisor, technology IBM drew from its mainframe line.

One major improvement in partitioning from Power4 to Power5 is better "virtualization," an abstraction technique that lets multiple partitions share the same network and storage adapters. With Power4, each partition required its own adapter, a significant practical constraint.

Partitioning is in vogue with companies trying to reduce the profusion of low-end servers--hard to manage and often sitting idle much of the time--with a small number of larger servers whose resources are efficiently used.

Sun's next version of Unix, Solaris 10, will bring new partitioning abilities through a software feature that will work not just on models using its and Fujitsu's Sparc processors, but also on machines based on Intel and Advanced Micro Devices processors.