IBM unveils new high-end Unix system

IBM Corp. boosted its high-end Unix server family by announcing a machine that the company said features faster chips, increased memory support and better systems management capabilities.

Scott Firth, a director in IBM’s eServer business unit, said the 24-processor pSeries 680 server – code-named Turbo and referred to more informally as the p680 – is scheduled to ship in mid-November with technologies migrated from IBM’s S/390 mainframe line.

The p680 adds to a growing menu of next-generation Unix servers from which users will be able to choose during the next several months. IBM rivals Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. both detailed major upgrades to their high-end server portfolios last month, with Sun announcing the first systems based on its UltraSPARC-III microprocessor and HP launching a 64-processor enterprise server called Superdome.

All of these systems represent a step upward for enterprise Unix servers and should offer substantially better performance and reliability than existing machines, said Rich Partridge, an analyst at Port Chester, N.Y.-based D.H. Brown Associates Inc. “It’s a new generation of servers that are clearly pushing higher into the data center,” he said.

The new servers are much more scalable than previous ones and can be partitioned into multiple smaller servers, making it easier for systems administrators to consolidate multiple applications on a single large server, Partridge said. Similarly, the p680 and its rivals support technologies that allow users to quickly add capacity or remove and replace faulty components without bringing the entire server down.

Highlights of IBM’s new p680 server include the following:

– Faster 600-MHz chips featuring IBM’s Silicon-on-Insulator technology, up from the 450-MHz processors used in the company’s current S80 servers.

– A mainframe-like capacity-upgrade-on-demand feature that allows users to quickly activate additional processors.

– A built-in service processor for monitoring and managing system performance.

– Support for up to 96GB of memory.

A dynamic CPU deallocation feature that can automatically detect failing processors and remove them from service.

Pricing for the p680 starts at $420,000 U.S. IBM said up to 16 of the new systems can be tied together via the Blue Hammer Web server clustering technology that it introduced last month for use in large e-commerce applications.

Hugh Hale, senior manager of information systems at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee in Chattanooga, said he expects to upgrade to the p680 after it becomes available.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee currently uses a 12-processor S80 server – the immediate predecessor to the p680. The IBM Unix server line “as a whole has performed well for us,” Hale said. “It’s reliable and offers very high performance.”