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Commentary: The promise of x440

According to Gartner, the unique thing about IBM's new mainframe Intel server is its expansion capability, which most companies will see as a welcome alternative.

By John Enck, Gartner Analyst

In Gartner's opinion, the unique thing about IBM's new mainframe Intel server, the eServer x440, is its expansion capability. Customers can start out with a four-way or eight-way configuration and slowly work up to a 16-way configuration as their computing needs increase.

See news story:
IBM to release high-end Intel server
However, Gartner believes that the modular approach may result in decreased processing power compared to standalone server approaches.

Companies uncertain as to their future business requirements will likely find the x440 a welcome alternative. The product provides the opportunity for high-end computing, but does not force the issue. The four-way and eight-way models can be used on their own or as building blocks for a variety of upgrade paths.

Moreover, the technology supports the expansion of input/output capabilities. For example, an additional model can be purchased if more input/output slots are needed for adding hard drives or network connections.

Servers from other Intel-based vendors do not offer that kind of expansion. A customer that outgrows a four-way server from Dell Computer or Compaq Computer, for example, must completely replace it and migrate all data in the process. However, Dell, Compaq and other Intel-based mainstream servers have lower prices than the x440, so x440 customers will pay a bit of a premium for the option to grow.

Still, the x440 has a much lower price than one of the products it is aimed at--the Unisys ES7000. However, Gartner believes that the x440 poses no real threat to the ES7000 in terms of processing power because the ES7000 scales to 32 processors.

On the other hand, while Unisys ES7000 is more powerful, it does require the purchase of a large frame--which represents a significant financial commitment. IBM's modular x440 does not have a frame, but Gartner believes its processing power is somewhat restricted because of that design. Two eight-way x440 models connected together as a 16-way will likely not perform as well as the Unisys ES7000 running as a 16-way model.

The bottom line is that Gartner believes the x440 is unique in the IA-32 market--IBM is the only vendor to offer the technology. Other vendors will offer similar approaches for 64-bit processing.

(For related commentary on worldwide server market statistics, see gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.