IBM Takes Four-Banger to New Levels of Memory

IBM Corp. upped the ante for memory support today in the classic four-processor server.

IBM ( offered two new four-way Netfinity servers, the 7100 and the 7600, that each can be expanded to up to 16 GB of memory.

The step comes at a time when most four-way servers support 4 GB of RAM. It also doubles the memory support (8 GB) that Hewlett-Packard Co. ( announced last week with its new six-way servers that are priced to compete with four-processor servers.

Jim Garden, an analyst with Technology Business Research (, says that IBM has the right idea even though the machines’ memory capacity overshoots the capabilities of the Windows operating systems they are designed to complement.

Windows NT Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition, maxes out at 4 GB of RAM. Windows 2000 Advanced Server supports up to 8 GB, and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server which supports more memory will not be offered for four-way servers.

"Requirement for memory in these systems doubles every 18 months," Garden says. "In the future we expect that those memory limits on Windows 2000 will increase. If the capability is available in a number of machines, the operating system will be under duress to be extensible."

It is true that limiting Advanced Server to 8 GB of memory is a licensing issue. Advanced Server uses the same 36-bit extensions as Datacenter Server to get past the 4 GB memory limit.

Meanwhile, many industry observers say the four-way market is a sweet spot for growth in server sales.

Market research from IDC ( in 1999 projected that four-processor server unit shipments would climb slowly from 202,000 in 1998 to 258,000 this year before jumping to 415,00 units next year, 641,000 units in 2002, and 827,000 units in 2003.

For now, IBM is packaging its new Netfinity servers as tailored for the high-availability deployments it expects customers to implement with Windows 2000. IBM includes several of its X-architecture features as part of servers.

"We have upped the feature list in very specific areas: performance, high-availability, and storage capacity," says Tom Bradicich, director of architecture and technology for IBM’s Netfinity server line. "Now when you look at Windows 2000 and the Netfinity 7600, not one of them is holding the other back."

IBM markets its X-architecture as bringing IBM mainframe features down to PC servers. Both new servers come standard with a dedicated/integrated system management processor, light path diagnostics, and a redundant power fuel gauge.

The system management processor monitors system components and is programmed to predict failures and provide continuing management control of downed systems. Light path diagnostics is a system of internal lights to highlight problems for system managers. The power gauge alerts IT managers when extra system components are tapping into a failover power supply, creating a situation where a failed power supply can crash a system with a redundant power supply.

Netfinity 7600 systems also come standard with Chipkill memory, IBM’s system for recovering from memory failures, and Active PCI, which allows Netfinity servers to automatically recognize and configure new network cards or RAID adapters without a system shutdown. The features are options in the Netfinity 7100. The 7600 starts at around $10,000, while the 7100 starts at almost $7,000.

The servers each come in an 8U form factor with room for 10 internal hard drives and ServeRAID 3HB controller cards.

IBM is also refreshing other servers in its Netfinity line. The two-way Netfinity 5600 now comes in 733 MHz and 800 MHz Pentium III varieties. The two-processor, 1U Netfinity 4000R becomes available worldwide and has been upgraded to 650 MHz and 750 MHz PIII processors.

A major part of IBM’s announcements include enhancements to the company’s storage offerings that complement Netfinity servers. The company added several Netfinity Fibre-Channel products including 9, 18, and 36 GB 10,000 RPM Fibre Hard Disk Drives; Piano Fibre-Channel External Enclosure; Fibre-Channel host bus adapter; Fibre Channel RAID storage subsystem; Fibre-Channel optical cable; Fibre-Channel host/drive interface; and Fibre-Channel controller 256 MB cache upgrade. The company also introduced a 60/120 8mm Mammoth 2 tape drive and a six-cartridge DDS4 DAT autoloader. – Scott Bekker

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.