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IBM next month will begin shipping high-end servers in their pSeries and iSeries lines running on its Power5 processor.

The Armonk, N.Y., company will launch the 32-way p590, the 64-way p595 and the 64-way i595, IBM officials will announce Friday.

The virtualization features offered with the servers coupled with the dual-core capabilities in the Power5 give the new systems an advantage over competing high-end Unix servers from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc., according to IBM officials.

“These are truly the largest servers the world’s ever seen,” said Karl Freund, vice president of product marketing for the pSeries. “It’s got 2.9 times the performance of [IBM’s] p690. That’s a lot of horsepower. These are the ultimate server consolidation platforms.”

The introduction of the new systems completes the conversion of the core systems in IBM’s pSeries and iSeries systems to Power5, which was rolled out in May. Freund said IBM now offers Power5 systems ranging from the one-way p520 to the p595. The processor also is featured in a series of Express architecture systems designed for midrange customers and the OpenPower Linux-only platform.

The new pSeries systems not only offer more performance than their Power4-based counterparts, but also cost about 40 percent less, Freund said. Key to the price/performance advantage is the processors dual-core technology, in which each core can run dual instruction threads simultaneously.

In addition, each system ships with IBM’s Virtualization Engine included, enabling the servers to run multiple virtual machines.

Being able to handle multiple workloads will continue to be a key element of high-end systems going forward, not only for IBM but also for Sun and HP, according to Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc.

“With this announcement, they are saying what others like HP are saying, which is that what’s important is the virtualization capabilities, the ability to handle lots of workloads, rather than just [offering] one big box,” said Haff, in Nashua, N.H. “The real differentiator is going to be in the virtualization capabilities.”

The p590 comes with 1.65GHz Power5 chips; the p595 comes with either 1.65GHz or 1.9GHz chips. They also support Linux or AIX 5L, IBM’s Unix operating system.

The i595 offers four times the performance of the comparable i890, said Guy Paradise, product marketing manager for the iSeries. Like all iSeries systems, it comes bundled with various IBM DB2 database technology and WebSphere middleware.

It also can support up to 254 logical partitions—up from 32 partitions supported in the i890—and can run Linux, AIX 5L and the i5/OS operating systems simultaneously, Paradise said.

Though the Unix market is somewhat stagnant, it still represents a healthy chunk of the overall server space. According to analyst firm IDC, unit shipments grew 20.2 percent in the second quarter, although revenues only grew 1.8 percent. But the Unix market for the quarter was $4.2 billion—about 36.6 percent of the overall global server revenue—and Sun remained the market share leader with 33.6 percent, according to IDC numbers. HP followed at 30.3 percent, and IBM was third at 24.4 percent.

HP officials say IBM is playing catch-up to HP’s high-end Superdome systems, which run either HP’s PA-RISC chips or Intel Corp.’s Itanium processors. HP is in the process of migrating all of its high-end systems to Itanium. Larry Singer, vice president of Sun’s Global Information Systems Strategy Office, said the Unix space is becoming a two-company race between Sun and IBM, based on the amount of research and development being done in the area. HP instead is betting its future on Itanium, Singer said.

HP is discontinuing its Itanium workstations. Click here to read more.

For Sun, its advantage over IBM is the cost and simplicity, as well as the Solaris operating system, he said.

Haff, the Illuminata analyst, said that despite Sun’s assertion, HP will continue to be a major player in the high-end space, a market that is seeing its share of change. For example, Sun is using a partnership with Fujitsu Ltd. to continue the development of its high-end SPARC-based systems—in large part to free up money to build out its x86 systems powered by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Opteron processor—and HP continues its Itanium standardization.

“The fact is, Itanium is a very fast processor,” Haff said. “Even though it’s not used very widely outside of HP, how is that different from [Sun’s] SPARC or [IBM’s] Power? [Itanium] is no better than SPARC or Power in breadth of space, but it’s no worse.”

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