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IBM does Linux-only dance on Power

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IBM continues to refine its Linux server strategy, announcing today a new set of kit that runs the open source OS only on its Power5 processor.

The first system in this new line will be the OpenPower 720, which arrives later this month. The four-processor box will run on either 1.5GHz or 1.65GHz Power5 chips and support up to 64GB of memory. IBM will offer both Red Hat and SuSE's enterprise Linux operating systems on the new box.

In the first half on next year, IBM also plans to rollout a two-processor system in the OpenPower line.

Up to this point, IBM has offered Linux as an option on its Power-based systems, but most customers have opted for AIX on the servers. Linux has been more popular on IBM's Xeon and Opteron-based gear and even its mainframes. Now, however, IBM hopes to heat up competition against low-end Unix systems from HP and Sun Microsystems by focusing on tuning Linux for Power.

IBM, for example, plans to bring its Virtualization Engine technology over to the Linux-only Power systems by the end of the year. This software is a type of load balancer that makes sure important applications have all the processing power and network bandwidth they need. It will juggle around a server's various resources to ensure that applications are performing up to snuff. The software starts at $2,000 and has typically been used with AIX.

While IBM pitches the new OpenPower gear against HP and Sun, it is clearly attacking its own AIX base as well. IBM has not been shy about encouraging customers to leave its proprietary version of Unix, as Sun enjoys an inflated position in this space. By putting Linux on Power, IBM is able to make the most of its chip investment and sell higher margin gear than comparable kit in its xSeries x86 lines.

How many Linux customers will pick Power over Xeon or Opteron remains to be seen though. IBM's chip is a strong performer, but it does not come with the typical cost advantages associated with the x86 market. ®

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