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IBM takes high road with new servers

Big Blue plans to unveil xSeries machines based on its Summit chipset technology and on top-of-the-line Intel microprocessors.

IBM on Wednesday plans to unveil a new family of servers based on its Summit chipset technology and on high-end Intel microprocessors.

The computing giant hopes the new xSeries servers will better its position in a battle with Dell Computer, Compaq Computer and Unisys to lead the Intel-based server market. Just as important, it will give IBM more ammunition in its effort to recover ground against server archrival Sun Microsystems.

The company is expected to announce the servers at a software developers conference in San Francisco, according to an IBM spokeswoman.

The systems will serve as a testing ground for Intel's 32-bit Xeon and 64-bit Itanium processors. Unlike most chipsets, Summit is ambidextrous--it will work with standard 32-bit chips as well as with the upcoming McKinley processor, a faster take on Itanium that will appear in test systems by the end of the year. McKinley is expected to be the first version of Itanium to be adopted for general commercial use.

As previously reported, Summit allows IBM to incorporate features typically associated with its supercomputers and high-end server lines into generally less expensive Intel-based servers. Under the X Architecture initiative, IBM's more affordable server lines have gained features such as the ability to swap out memory and processors while the computer is running.

Summit also is designed to permit corporations to put up to 16 processors in a single machine, IBM said.

The xSeries servers consist of as many as four processor "quads." Each quad can have four processors and features its own memory and input-output abilities. The quads can communicate over a high-speed "scalability port."

Although IBM has long been associated with the highest levels of computing, it began to hit the skids in the server market in the late 1990s.

"It looked like Sun really had its act together. We didn't have a strategy to participate in this e-business thing," Bill Zeitler, senior vice president in charge of IBM's server group, said in an interview in March.

Since then, Big Blue has been on the mend.

News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.