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IBM's Itanium server just got bigger

Searching for a sweet spot

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IBM has made the uncharacteristic move of boasting about one of its Itanium 2 servers with the official launch today of the x455 system.

IBM describes the x455 "as one of the worst kept secrets in the industry," and we thank it for that compliment. It was back in June, that we first brought news of the four to 16 processor server based on Intel's third generation Madison chips. The system is the follow on to the x450 server McKinley system otherwise known as the bastard child of IBM's server line.

The x455 comes with a number of bells and whistles its predecessor can't match. For starters it runs on the faster Madison processors. IBM is making the 1.3GHz, 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz versions of Intel's 64bit chip available.

The server also uses IBM's second generation EXA - aka Summit - chipset. This makes it possible for IBM to stack four of the x455s together to make a 16-way SMP system. This is the same technology used in IBM's Xeon line and gives customers the fabled "pay as you grow" option, said Jay Bretzmann, IBM's manager of eServer products.

Customers can purchase a 4-way x455 up front and then add additional systems as needed.

IBM is looking for the 8-way market to be the "sweet spot" for the box. We asked how there could be an identifiable sweet spot for a chip that hardly has any sales.

"It's an expected sweet spot," Bretzmann said with a chuckle.

And with that chuckle comes confirmation that IBM is still hesitant about the whole Itanic idea. The vast majority of IBM's attention is centered around its own 64bit Power4 processor. The company is happy to offer Itanium-based kit as an option, but it would prefer to sell a Power system if truth be told.

"We are not disappointed with Itanium's sales," Bretzmann said. "We never had expectations that we would float the whole company on it."

Who would float the whole company on the Itanic? Ah, yes, HP, which released its own 16-way Itanium kit last week.

The x455 starts shipping in December at a starting price of $21,999 for the 4-way chassis with one processor. From day one, it will run Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Linux and SuSE Linux.

Linux users, however, will be relegated to the 4-way version of the x455 for some time. IBM plans to support 8-way boxes "shortly after GA" and 16-way system when the 2.6 kernel is all said and done.

IBM's server business has been thriving of late, and this move is sure to keep pressure on HP. ®

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