UPDATE: IBM brings clustering to BladeCenter

IBM Corp. announced a new plan on Wednesday that it says will take the guesswork out of building Linux clusters and give commercial customers an entry point into the clustering space.

The company has introduced pre-packaged blade clusters, which leverage IBM’s 1350 Linux/Intel cluster technology on its eServer BladeCenter blade servers. BladeCenter can hold as many as 84 blades per rack and presents a dimension of density into the cluster space that has not been available before, according to David Turek, vice-president of IBM Deep Computing.

“We can deliver a lot more bang for the cubic foot of computing that a customer has available,” Turek said.

The combination of BladeCenter with the 1350 cluster technology presents benefits on two levels, he said. As BladeCenter is essentially a cluster itself, which can be stacked or coupled with 1U or 2U servers on a larger rack, also part of the same cluster, customers can choose to mix and match these building blocks in the best way to suit their needs.

“In addition, when we talk about integration, we mean substantially more than what might be conveyed in the mind of an ordinary person,” Turek said. “What we really do is put in place everything that a particular customer is looking to deploy.”

IBM plans to take on the grunt work, building the entire customer configuration rather than shipping a piecemeal solution. Before shipping, IBM said it will add a software stack to the cluster, install the switch technology and test the system.

“At that point, we’ll take our software off of it, box the cluster up as an entity and ship the integrated whole out to the customer,” Turek said.

With the pre-packaged, pre-configured clusters, IBM said the solution is ideal not only for classic cluster customers such as universities and government labs, but also for the life sciences, business intelligence, digital content creation and financial services markets.

But, the real question is whether these commercial markets are actually looking to deploy clustered products. IBM’s new offering is likely to catch more than a passing glance, said Charles King, research director at Sageza Group in Mountain View, Calif.

“The availability of a clustered blade solution like this makes it easier and more affordable for a company to consider it,” King said. “Basically what IBM has done with the Xeon-based blade server environment is to…productize or commercialize what is essentially an off-the-shelf commercial solution for an area of computing that has tended to be populated by highly customized solutions in the past.”

He said that historically, clusters or supercomputers have been relegated to research labs and university settings. The IBM prepackaged offering is “an increasingly affordable, clustered Intel-based cluster environment that really can be deployed very easily by companies looking to use this kind of solution,” he added.

And while IBM is first to market with a commercial product, King said he expects both Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. and eventually Dell Computer Corp. to shortly follow suit.

The IBM Cluster 1350 with eServer BladeCenter will be available June 6. Pricing was not immediately available.

Markham, Ont.-based IBM Canada Ltd. is on the Web at www.ibm.com/ca.