IBM drops ‘Blue Hammer’ on clustering market

As part of its continuing effort to bring Linux into the mainstream, IBM Corp. last week introduced technology that will let businesses maintain huge Linux or Unix server farms from a single location.

In December, IBM pledged to spend US$1 billion this year for Linux development across its product lines, including PCs, mainframes and servers. IBM says the operating system will be instrumental for business applications and a viable alternative to Windows NT/ 2000.

Code-named “Blue Hammer,” the clustering technology can be used for applications ranging from Web serving to back-end enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM).

IBM is targeting the clusters at biotech companies, ISPs, application service providers and companies with Internet data centers.

Mediaprise plans to implement the Linux and AIX versions of the clusters to simplify its database server and Web environments at its Austin, Texas, hosting center, says Pat Bowman, director of technology operations at the hosting service provider. “There’ll be an increase of speeds and feeds for more throughput,” he says.

DaimlerChrysler plans to consolidate its servers with an AIX cluster in the spring. “I’ll gain back some real estate in the data center,” says Mike Kasperek, the company’s team leader of AIX support. “I’ll have room to grow again.”

The clusters are built using IBM’s system management software, known as Parallel System Support Programs (PSSP), and the file system, called General Parallel File System (GPFS), which are used in its SP supercomputer. The software runs on a central workstation, which in turn balances workloads among all servers in the cluster to which it is connected over a high-speed LAN.

PSSP lets users manage multiple servers – up to hundreds in some businesses – per cluster. The clustering technology supports administrative functions, such as operating system installation and configuration.

GPFS enables shared file access across servers in a cluster, and scales to 9 terabytes.

The Unix version clusters up to 32 two- to eight-way IBM M80 machines or one- to six-way IBM H80 servers running AIX, IBM’s version of Unix. Both midrange servers, M80 and H80, can be clustered with IBM eServer p680 or S80 servers. The M80, H80, S80 and p680 systems can also directly attach to an SP supercomputer. The Linux version clusters up to 32 two-way IBM eServer x330 Intel-based machines. IBM plans to scale the clusters up to 256 machines in the future.

Stacy Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group, says IBM’s clusters will improve performance for applications such as ERP and CRM. She also expects IBM to roll out hybrid Unix-Linux down the road.

Quandt adds that IBM is ahead of its competition – Compaq, Dell and Hewlett-Packard – in supporting high-end clustering in Linux-powered, Intel-based servers. The company is also more aggressive in exploring clustering in Unix-powered Intel-based servers, she says, compared to HP, Compaq and Sun.

The AIX clusters will be released this week for $32,000 per node. Linux clusters will be available in June, but pricing hasn’t been set.