IBM boosts high-end pSeries servers

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The high end of IBM Corp's Unix server line was bolstered by new Power4+ processors and additional features Tuesday as the company also disclosed new flexible pricing strategies for its pSeries servers.

The eServer p690, p670, and p655 Unix servers can now take advantage of clock speed increases in IBM's Power4+ chip, which is now available at 1.5GHz and 1.7GHz. The Power4+ chip is a .13-micron version of IBM's venerable Power4 architecture for Unix and Linux servers.

The new configurations of the p690 and p670 will be available on May 30. The p690 starts at US$493,386 for an eight-way configuration with the 1.5GHz Power4+ chips, 8G bytes of main memory, two 36G-byte hard drives and IBM's AIX operating system. The p670 starts at $190,411 for a four-way configuration with 4G bytes of memory, two 36G-byte hard drives and AIX.

The p655 will not be available with the new processors until late July, IBM said. It will be available in two configurations: a four-way version with the 1.7GHz Power4+ chip for $50,000 and an eight-way version with the 1.5GHz chip for $70,000.

Customers will be able to purchase pSeries servers with additional processors that are turned off until needed. For example, a customer with cyclical computing needs, such as an online holiday store, could pay for 16 processors in a server that actually comes with 32 processors. Most of the year the company would only need 16 processors worth of computing power, but it could turn on the additional processors in two-processor increments to handle seasonal spikes in demand.

This saves customers from having to purchase a large server that would only get fully utilized for a limited period of time, said Karl Freund, vice president of eServer pSeries systems strategy at IBM. The processor on/off pricing strategy is cost-effective for as much as 90 days of additional processor use, after which it's more economical to permanently purchase the additional computing power, he said.

Customers can also meet future processing needs with the upgrade-on-demand pricing strategy. A business could buy a 16-way server but only pay for eight processors right away, Freund said. At some point when the customer decides they need that extra power, they can permanently turn on those processors in two-processor increments, he said.

This allows customers to save upfront costs of acquiring computing power, paying only when they need to upgrade and freeing that capital for other uses, he said.

For example, the p670 costs $190,411 for the base system, with no upgrade-on-demand or processor on/off capabilities. A 16-way p670 costs $494,897 with none of the on-demand features. Under the upgrade-on-demand plan, a customer would pay $333,011 for a p670 system with a total of 16 processors, only eight of which are active.

To activate two additional processors in the p670, the customer would pay $34,000. The total price after activating all the additional eight processors is equal to what the customer would have paid for the entire 16-way system, after per-processor software maintenance costs and additional memory upgrades are factored in.

Under the processor on/off pricing strategy, customers are required to prepurchase 60 days' worth of processing time on the normally unused processors. This costs one-third of what it would cost to permanently activate two processors under the upgrade-on-demand scheme. One day of processing time is equal to 24 hours' use of a normally dormant processor, so using two processors for 24 hours counts as two days, and using eight processors for eight days counts as 64 days.

IBM's partioning technology allowed it to bring these capabilities to customers, said Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, New Hampshire. "As processors grow more powerful, partioning becomes even more important," he said.

Logical partioning is when groups of processors, memory, and storage are divided up into virtual servers that act independently of one another within a single server. This allows processors to remain dormant within an otherwise functioning server until turned on by the user.

IBM, based in Armonk, New York, made several other enhancements to the three servers. A new I/O drawer system based on proprietary technology improves data transfer speeds by up to four times the capabilities of IBM's older technology, Freund said.

The more powerful processors will help IBM stay near the top of the enterprise server market in terms of performance, Haff said. "It was already a fast processor, and this is an even faster version. Itanium 2 did seem to be beating it on some benchmarks, but this probably puts Power4+ systems back on top on some benchmarks," he said.

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