IBM doubles up Unix clusters

IBM Corp. has doubled the size of a pre-certified cluster of Unix servers that it offers users to help them save space and cut down on management costs, the company announced Friday.

IBM’s Cluster 1600 will now link together as many as 32 of its most powerful Unix servers in a configuration that the company has tuned to get the best performance out of the systems. IBM offers 32 of its p690 servers, each with 32 processors, or 32 of its p670 servers with 16 processors, along with its cluster management software. Both of these configurations are twice the size of its previous cluster offerings for those systems, said Barbara Butler, director of Unix clusters at IBM, in Armonk, N.Y. IBM also builds larger clusters on a custom basis.

“This is for customers looking to clustering for performance or simply for easier ways to manage lots of servers,” she said.

A cluster is group of servers connected together that can be managed either as one computer or divided up to run several applications. Linking servers together in this way can help scientific researchers or car manufacturers, for example, beef up their computing power to handle large calculations.

The Cluster 1600 runs IBM’s AIX version of the Unix operating system. The servers can also be split up into multiple partitions, each running either AIX or Linux, Butler said.

One user said the partitioning technology was one of the key reasons his company is looking at the IBM cluster.

“You can get very granular management by having up to 16 logical partitions per server,” said Ralph Maggi, senior manager of Unix and distributed technologies at Philip Morris Companies Inc.

The partitions help Maggi slice and dice the p690 servers to handle the various applications used by Philip Morris as needed.

In addition, IBM’s design of the cluster cuts down on the cabling used for linking 32 servers, which allows it to pack the systems tighter together and requires less management, Maggi said.

“It’s scalability in a smaller footprint,” he said.

A Cluster 1600 with only two 32-way p690 servers and a control workstation starts at about US$2.4 million.

The p690 systems run on either 1.1GHz or 1.3 GHz Power4 processors. The p670 systems are available only with 1.1GHz chips.