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IBM's Power5 beast takes on Sun, HP - and IBM

Hitting the 64-way barrier

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IBM is set to start shipping the biggest, baddest Unix servers in its history.

Come November, customers will see the Power5-based p5-590 and p5-595 servers hit the market. The 32-way 590 is a direct replacement for the current Power4+-based p690. The 595, however, breaks new ground for IBM, as the company has finally delivered a box that can hold up to 64 processors. IBM is also touting a new 64-way box in its iSeries line - the i5-595.

These long awaited systems obviously go head-to-head against similar servers from the likes of Sun Microsystems and HP. IBM revitalized its Unix server line with the release of the dual-core Power4 and now looks to put even more pressure on rivals with the high-performing Power5 chip and a more sophisticated version of AIX tuned for the processor.

Of particular note, IBM brags that each Power5 chip can be split up to handle up to 10 logical partitions. This gives customers a way to run more workloads on a single box. In addition, the Power5 chips can churn through more software threads via IBM's multi-threading technology, which was not available on the older Unix boxes. Customers can run AIX, Linux or i5/0S on any of the systems announced today.

While these new features put more pressure on Sun and HP, they also make IBM's Unix machines more competitive against its own mainframe boxes. The 64-processor i5-595 and p5-595 deliver many mainframe-like features but fall a bit more in the "open systems" category, meaning customers can gain price/performance advantages and be less dependent on very proprietary mainframe tools.

The 590 will be offered with a 1.65GHz version of the Power5 chip, while the 595 can ship with either 1.65GHz or 1.90GHz processors.

Customers should note that IBM tends to differ from competitors in the way that it counts processors in a server. When it says a 64-way box, for example, it's using 32 dual-core chips to reach that number. Using this same counting method, Sun's E25K server is a 144 processor box.

Overall, you have to hand it to IBM for pushing its Power5 chip at a steady clip. Sun and HP have only recently rolled out dual-core processors, and Intel won't have a dual-core Itanium chip until next year. Meanwhile, IBM is on its third-generation part.

IBM, however, seems to fall behind rivals a bit with AIX. The company is slow to upgrade the OS and is lacking a number a features offered by competitors. ®

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