IBM Announces New Dual-Processor Blade Server
Big Blue offers thinnest server to date.
IBM Corp. today unveiled the eServer BladeCenter, a dual-processor blade server supporting up to 84 blades per 7U rack. Big Blue bills the new eServer BladeCenter as its “thinnest” server to date, and says that customers can add additional server blades on an as-needed basis to increase capacity.
Each eServer BladeCenter card is outfitted with two Xeon microprocessors from Intel Corp. The Xeon is Intel’s flagship 32-bit chip for servers and high-performance workstations. Its cooling requirements make it difficult to effectively integrate in the ultra-low footprint of the server blade, analysts say.
Because of this, says Jonathan Eunice, a principal analyst and IT advisor with consultancy Illuminata, Big Blue’s new dual-Xeon blade servers represent a first from a major vendor.
“Most [blade servers] are single processor Pentium III-type designs, [or] even lower power units like the Transmeta Crusoe, or other low power designs, so it is somewhat out of the ordinary › not that other people don’t have that as a plan,” he comments, noting that HP has a Xeon-based blade server in the works.
IBM positioned its new blade servers in the context of a number of additional performance, availability, and management offerings that it’s making available to eServer BladeCenter customers.
For example, Big Blue says that its BladeCenter servers can be configured with an integrated fibre switch option. By integrating a fibre switch on a blade server card, IBM claims, it’s able to reduce the entry cost for customers to connect their blade servers in a storage area network (SAN). In addition to Fibre Channel support, IBM claims that its BladeCenter servers will also support future I/O capabilities, such as the proposed InfiniBand standard.
Illuminata’s Eunice says that a move of this kind has an additional consequence, as well: It makes the eServer BladeCenter › which supports as many as 168 processors › an ideal platform for clustering or high-performance computing.
“The drive towards Fibre Channel connectivity is something that makes them a little bit more cluster-able than average, [along with] the use of Gigabit Ethernet rather than Fast Ethernet,” he points out, “so the additional performance both from [the perspective of] a storage unit and on the network [with Gigabit Ethernet] kind of favor clustering for scientific or compute-intensive applications.”
Because of the uniqueness of the blade-server model (dozens of server cards are packed in a crowded chassis), uptime and availability are at a premium. To that end, IBM says that BladeCenter customers can purchase redundant hot-swap cooling, power, and management modules, along with automatic failover components, to help to ensure server availability.
Finally, Big Blue says that it will bundle a new version of its IBM Director management software with the eServer BladeCenter. IBM Director 4.1 features automated set-up and configuration wizards. According to the company, this makes it easier for customers to deploy and maintain blades, even as it facilitates the mass configuration of chassis and blades.
The eServer BladeServer will start shipping in November. It supports Linux, Windows and Novell Netware.
Eunice concedes that Big Blue is, comparatively speaking, late to the blade- server party. At the same time, he argues, IBM’s recent partnership with Intel ›Big Blue and Intel last week teamed up to develop high-performance blade servers › and its own RISC-based Power microprocessors, give it an advantage over many of its competitors.
“If [IBM’s] deal with Intel comes to fruition, you should be looking for four-way Xeon blades and also some Itanium  blades. IBM is coming to market later, but on the other hand, it’s packing a lot of punch per blade and per rack, and [it’s] obviously been thinking about how to slide in Itaniums and Power 4’s in future versions,” he says.
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.