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IBM to release high-end Intel server

Big Blue is set to release its highest-end Intel server yet, a system code-named Vigil that uses eight, 12 or 16 processors.

IBM on Wednesday will release its highest-end Intel server yet, a system code-named Vigil that uses eight, 12 or 16 processors.

The server, now officially called the x440, ties Intel's new Xeon processors together with an IBM-designed chipset--a group of chips that manage a number of a server's internal operations, touting capabilities typically only found in mainframes. Until now, IBM's Intel servers have relied chiefly on chipsets from outside companies such as Intel and Broadcom subsidiary ServerWorks.

"We've been working on this for three years," said Jim Gargan, vice president and business line executive for IBM's xSeries Intel servers. The company is aiming not only at Unix server companies such as Sun Microsystems, but also at Unisys, whose ES7000 can accommodate as many as 32 CPUs (central processing units).

IBM announced the system at the CeBit trade show in Hannover, Germany.

The IBM chipset, called Enterprise X Architecture (EXA) and code-named Summit, creates high-speed communication links between processors, which are grouped into blocks of four. Four-processor blocks can be plugged together with cables to form larger eight or 16 processor systems, and a technology called remote input-output improves how many devices such as network cards can be installed.

Although Intel only announced the Xeon chip Tuesday, IBM has already shipped hundreds of four-processor Summit systems, said IBM spokesman Mike Fay. The eight-processor version will go on sale in April, while the 16-processor version is expected in June, Fay said.

A 16-processor x440 with 16GB of memory will cost a little more than $100,000, which IBM says is 78 percent less than a comparably configured Unisys ES7000. A low-end version of the x440 with just two processors costs $18,500.


Gartner analyst John Enck says the x440 provides the opportunity for high-end computing, but does not force the issue.

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"What Unisys is trying to do is sell Intel-based technology at mainframe prices. We're doing just the opposite," Fay said.

Unisys counters that it's got a track record with its ES7000, which has been on the market with other Intel processors since 2000. And an ES7000 can continue running even when a processor fails, a feature IBM can't match, Unisys said.

IBM has been ready to go with the systems for months. "Clearly, we wish that we had access to more of the" Xeon CPUs, Gargan said. "We could have met more customer demands."

When Intel releases "McKinley," the second generation of its high-end Itanium family of chips, IBM will release a Summit server that can accommodate the new CPU, Gargan said. The Summit chipset for McKinley will only be slightly different than the version used inside Vigil, which cuts down development costs.

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