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IBM Previews Larger Intel-Based Servers

IBM Corp. used Comdex to share its plans with customers for the greater-than-eight-processor Intel architecture servers it will release next year.

The server technology, based on the Summit chipset IBM has discussed before, will go under the name Enterprise X Architecture, a high-end version of the X Architecture technology that underpins its xSeries of servers. Both the Enterprise X Architecture (EXA) and the X Architecture are built on the idea that IBM is bringing availability technology developed for its mainframes, AS/400s and Unix/RISC systems to the standard PC server market.

Through EXA, IBM will offer logical 16-processor servers made in a modular fashion from four-processor building blocks.

Users who want to build 16-processor systems would combine four-processor modules through the use of what IBM calls a high-speed scalability port. The approach also will allow IBM to create remote I/O units that can handle up to 12 I/O cards.

IBM will position the servers as ideal for a "pay as you grow" approach because users can buy one of the four-way modules and later add a second, third or fourth module without paying up front overhead for a large server cabinet.

While the approach is similar to what will be possible through Infiniband, IBM plans for it to be available in 2002 as opposed to 2003 when more widespread availability of Infiniband components is expected.

IBM's technology will compete with Unisys Corp.'s ES7000 servers, currently available in 32 processor configurations and likely to be released in 64-way configurations in the next year or so. IBM will also face greater-than-eight-way competition on the Intel side of the market from NEC Corp. and Intel Corp.'s own chipset efforts. Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. also had plans to roll out high-end Intel servers in the same timeframe; however, it is unclear where those two companies' high-end Intel server roadmaps stand in light of the merger.

Like Unisys does with its ES7000, IBM plans to support both 32-bit and 64-bit processors in its Enterprise X Architecture servers.

Some of the technologies in IBM's EXA plans include L4 cache, hot swap memory, system intelligence to help customers choose whether to use PCI or PCI-X slots, Windows monitoring for proactive system recovery and server partitioning capabilities.

About the Author

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

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