IBM unveils ready-to-go Linux clusters for business

IBM Corp. has expanded its Linux offerings with what it is calling the industry’s first pre-assembled and pre-configured Linux server clusters for businesses.

In an announcement made last Tuesday, the vendor said its new pre-packaged Linux eServer Cluster 1300 units, which include applications, testing and support, are another part of the company’s strategy to help bring the Linux operating system into wider use throughout the enterprise.

Customers “want a system they can plug in and start running their businesses on,” said Peter Ungaro, IBM’s vice-president of high-performance computing. “We have a long list of ideas for this.”

The new clusters, which will be available starting Nov. 26, will use from four to more than 1,000 servers and will come set up, tested and ready to use, he said.

IBM, which pledged a US$1 billion investment in Linux technologies this year, is building the clusters because of interest from customers who want to improve their business technologies while lowering IT costs during the economic downturn, Ungaro said. “Clearly, Linux allows them to get some leverage in that area,” he said.

The clusters will run Red Hat Inc. Linux 7.1 on each server and will include centralized cluster management and global file systems so that any data file can be accessed from any server by any user. The clusters will be built from IBM’s x330 and x342 Intel-based servers and harnessed together using IBM’s cluster and file management software based on the company’s SP supercomputer.

Pricing for an eight-server cluster running Intel Corp. Pentium III 1.25-GHz processors will start at about $85,000.

The server clusters will first be available in configurations for five target markets: high-availability, databases, e-commerce, e-mail and transaction processing. The e-commerce clusters will feature IBM’s WebSphere e-business software suite; the database clusters will feature IBM’s DB2 Universal Database Enterprise Edition software.

One of the main benefits of the new cluster offerings is that they can be rolled into a customer’s business and be online quickly instead of being painstakingly assembled and configured on-site for several weeks or months, as with most cluster projects today, Ungaro said.

“It’s really what the business customers are looking for,” he said.

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said the new cluster offerings would probably expand IBM’s business among independent software vendors (ISV) and value-added retailers (VAR) who provide clusters to their own customers.

“By having a prepackaged cluster, they make it easier for ISVs and VARs,” which are more likely to use IBM clusters than to build them from scratch, Kusnetzky said. “I think IBM is hoping to capitalize on its reputation” for building powerful machines, he added.

The new clusters also go a long way toward showing that IBM is serious about its commitment to Linux, Kusnetzky said.

Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, said the clusters will be “a huge plus” for customers seeking such technologies for their businesses, because building clusters from the ground up is still not an easy thing to do. And IBM’s timing is good, he added, because although the market for such units is still small, it is out there waiting to be served.

In a related announcement, IBM also unveiled its eServer Cluster 1600, which runs IBM’s AIX 5L Unix for customers seeking pre-assembled and pre-tested Unix clusters for their businesses.