IBM Opens Windows .NET, Xeon MP High-End Benchmarking with a Roar

Leveraging Windows .NET Datacenter Server beta code and Intel's new Xeon MP chips, IBM used the Transaction Processing Performance Council's OLTP benchmark to demonstrate impressive performance on its funky new eight-processor servers.

The benchmark, published last week, was the first test showing the performance of Intel's new Xeon MP chips on a system with more than four processors.

IBM used eight 1.6-GHz Xeon MPs on one of its eServer xSeries 440s. The x440 is IBM's modular new server that consists of four-processor bricks that can be combined to create SMP servers of up to 16 processors. When the 16-processor capability ships, IBM will be the first major OEM to offer an Intel-based server domestically of more than eight processors other than Unisys, which has sold 32-processor servers for several years.

Best Intel-based 8-Way

IBM's result on the TPC-C showed more than a 30 percent raw performance improvement over the previous best eight-processor results -- Dell PowerEdge and HP ProLiant systems both running Windows 2000 Datacenter and 900-MHz Intel Pentium III Xeons. The IBM system hit 92,398 transactions per minute on the TPC-C benchmark (tpmC). Dell's mark, set last August, was 69,901 tpmC. HP's result, published in February, was 69,169 tpmC.

Strong Against 8-Way Unix Systems

The x440 also held its own against eight-processor midrange RISC systems from IBM and Bull, both running IBM's AIX operating system. The eServer x440 reached 92,398 transactions per minute on the TPC-C benchmark (tpmC), which is third behind the 105,025 tpmC result achieved with both IBM's eServer pSeries 660 and the Bull Escala PL800R. The Unix benchmarks were published last September.

Best 8-Way in Price/Performance

The IBM xSeries pulled away from the field on price/performance, however. Its $7.70/tpmC was less than Dell ($8.46), HP($9.43), the IBM pSeries ($23.45) and Bull ($25.41).

Setting up an IBM-Unisys Smackdown

The benchmark also gives IBM a strong scalability story versus the 800-pound gorilla in Windows-based scalability -- the 32-processor Unisys ES7000 -- for now. Unisys has the best Windows-based SMP result on the TPC benchmark to date with its November posting of a result of 165,219 tpmC.

For awhile, IBM can play up the fact that its 8-way can offer better than half that performance at a little over one-third the price/transaction. Further sweetening the IBM story is the headroom available when it ships 16-way systems.

However, Unisys has already unveiled its next generation of CMP servers, and next month is set to start shipping two models tuned for the Xeon MP processor, including one model with a more competitive price that should put it in tighter competition with IBM on that front.

Chipset Advantage

IBM's proprietary approach with the "Summit" chipset that undergirds its x440 servers gives it a head start in the eight-way, Intel-based space. No industry-standard eight-processor chipset is currently shipping for the Xeon MP for rival companies like HP or Dell to plug into server designs.

Withdrawal Danger?

The choice of the beta code of Windows .NET Datacenter Server does put IBM's benchmark result at risk.

The server systems behind benchmarks submitted to the TPC must be available within six months. IBM put a Jan. 21, 2003 availability date on its result. Microsoft has only promised to RTM Windows .NET Server by the end of the year. Any delay could cause IBM to have to withdraw the result.

About the Author

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