IBM douses Xeon servers with Hurricane

Chipset of the future

IBM has spent years talking up its homemade chipsets for Xeon servers and isn't pulling back on the self-promotion now that its third-generation product is set to roll out the door.

The Hurricane chipset is IBM's answer for 64-bit, dual-core Xeons and related operating systems. It will serve as the foundation for four- to 64-processor servers rolled out over the coming year. IBM reckons it put $100m into the new chipset, which is the basis for the new X3 server architecture, and believes the product makes its gear superior to that from HP and Dell.

"The new xSeries product family based on X3 draws from our mainframe expertise and provides unprecedented benefits for customers seeking the most sophisticated capabilities and performance from their software applications," said Susan Whitney, a general manager in charge of servers at IBM.

IBM introduced the "Summit" chipset for Xeon servers back in 2001. That product helped it move some high-end performance and reliability features typically found on more expensive Unix boxes down to the x86 server market. The Hurricane chipset marks the third rev of this technology formally called the Enterprise X-Architecture by IBM.

Some of the main features of Hurricane and the X3 architecture include better memory performance, improved partitioning tools and support for upcoming dual-core Xeons from Intel. In addition, IBM said it has worked closely with Microsoft and Linux makers Red Hat and Novell to tweak Hurricane for their 64-bit operating systems.

The four-processor x366 will be the first box to use the Hurricane chipset and should arrive within 90 days at a starting price of $7,000.

It's hard to imagine that IBM will continue building its own chipset for the Xeon market for too much longer. It may be able to top rivals on a couple of high-end features but its narrow focus on the Intel-only market is starting to look a little silly.

IBM states that the x366 beat out HP's four-processor Opteron-based DL585 by 8 per cent on the TCP-C benchmark. What happens come mid-year when AMD rolls out dual-core Opterons, while Intel customers are still stuck with single core chips? Opteron-based systems also scale better than the Xeon kit, according to most analysts.

The high-end x86 market hasn't developed the way some expected. One- and two-processor systems still account for the vast majority of sales with bigger boxes being bought by just a handful of customers. With those low-end boxes, customers are looking primarily at performance and Opteron is winning on most accounts. They may well turn to a company such as HP down the road that offers choice and performance over a company bragging about its chipset with a fancy name. ®

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