IBM's iDataPlex: Making Web 2.0 Safe for the Data Center

IBM touts its new iDataPlex Web 2.0 servers as nothing less than game-changing

Last week, IBM Corp. unveiled iDataPlex, a new server platform it claims is designed from the ground up for Web 2.0 workloads. One analyst believes it is the Web 2.0 powerhouse Big Blue says it is.

IBM is touting iDataPlex as nothing less than game-changing. "With iDataPlex, IBM is making Web 2.0-style computing more efficient and commercializing it for Internet companies and other high performance segments like financial services and research," said Bill Zeitler, senior vice president of IBM's Systems and Technology Group, in a company press release.

Big computing companies rarely launch any new product without first attempting to establish its basic bona-fides, and in this respect iDataPlex is no different. Not surprisingly, Zeitler and Big Blue position it as the hardware bedrock atop which otherwise skittish IT organizations can build out their Web services and Web 2.0 projects.

"iDataPlex can provide a foundation that companies can build on to provide improved services to Web users around the world," Zeitler said.

That may be putting the cart before the horse. After all, what is iDataPlex and why should customers deploy it as the bedrock for anything, let alone for next-gen Web services and Web 2.0 initiatives?

In short, it's a super-dense blade-computing solution that boasts more than double the capacity of Big Blue's existing rack systems (thanks to the availability of quad-core chips from Intel Corp.). It’s also surprisingly “green.” According to IBM, iDataPlex can deliver up to five times the computing performance of an average 1U server while consuming up to 40 percent less power.

What's more, Big Blue says, customers can outfit iDataPlex with Big Blue's "Rear Door Heat Exchanger" -- a liquid-cooled "wall" that bolts onto the back of the system -- which enables it to run at room temperature. In other words, IBM claims, iDataPlex doesn't require air-conditioning. In other words, it helps reduce power and cooling costs. Thanks to its super-density, it also helps companies maximize their data center floor space.

What's not to like about iDataPlex, asks industry veteran Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT. For one thing, King points out, it addresses one of the thorniest -- and most frequently overlooked -- aspects of the gathering Web 2.0 frenzy: the importance of availability and reliability, as distinct from scalability, in Web 2.0 application efforts. Because Web 2.0 applications are multiparous and heterogeneous, architects tend to focus as much on scaling out for availability as on scaling up for performance.

"Web 2.0 services and solutions do not depend on conventional scale-up server technologies. Rather than pursue traditional hardware resiliency, these environments focus on software resiliency, ensuring application availability and reliability via massive pools of scale-out resources," King explains.

"Other technologies -- such as parallel programming, virtualization, clustering, grid, and 'cloud computing' -- can play critical roles in Web 2.0. In addition, support for open source is critical, since the vast majority of applications are Linux-based." Do the issues of designing for Web 2.0 really merit the development of an entirely new server platform? King thinks it does. He notes that many Web 2.0 data center operators already outsource their server requirements to specialty designers.

"[M]ost Web 2.0 data centers tend to be purpose-built, and many are located in remote areas that enjoy ample, readily available electrical power. Considering the technical needs of these facilities and the shortcomings of some conventional offerings, it's no surprise that some Web 2.0 data center owners design their own servers and outsource them to third-party manufacturers," King says.

"For that reason, … in order to broaden the commercial adoption of Web 2.0, vendors need to develop and deliver new categories of commercial systems. This is precisely what IBM did in iDataPlex, developing a unique design that packs 100U of computing -- 84U of servers and 16U of infrastructure components -- into the footprint of a single standard rack."

There's also the issue of iDataPlex's reduced power and cooling requirements, which King says are revolutionary -- insofar as they significantly move the bar in the data center Greenstakes.

"[[iDataPlex'] performance is delivered in a remarkably thrifty power envelope. The iDataPlex chassis design reduces the amount of air needed for cooling by half and incorporates power supply and fan technologies that increase energy efficiency by up to 40 percent over standard racks," he observes. "In iDataPlex, IBM [has] blended a host of existing and new innovations to create a unique approach for Web 2.0.

“IBM's iDataPlex has reset the bar, both for what customers should expect from Web 2.0 data center solutions and for what they will expect IT vendors to deliver."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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