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IBM boffins develop new, stronger name for x86 servers

Itanic out, Opteron in

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IBM has done some spring cleaning with its x86 servers. It has rolled out a new brand for the servers, officially given Itanium the boot and welcomed Opteron to its core product line.

The xSeries monicker for IBM's Xeon-based and Itanium-based boxes will be phased out over the coming year with new servers taking on the "System x" name. When asked if this is mostly a branding exercise, Jay Bretzmann, the director of IBM's System x hardware, told us, "Yeah, pretty much."

IBM, however, does hope the name shift means more than simply ordering new bezels and business cards. It wants the System x brand to remind customers of IBM's "systems company" talents such as producing solid SMPs even for the x86 market and handling virtualization software well. IBM has placed a large investment in its own X3 chipset for Xeon-based servers and believes the new name will reflect this effort.

It's not a bad strategy and should help IBM differentiate itself from a company such as Dell that cannot make the "systems" claim.

How does the new naming scheme work?

Well, the top-of-the-line xSeries x460 turns into the System x3950, while the x366 shifts to the System x3850 and the x260 turns into the System x3800. New servers will clearly be rolled out with the System x brand in the coming months.

In addition, you won't find an Itanium System x box.

"I just sold my last Itaniums," Bretzmann said, breathing a sigh of relief.

IBM has not made room for Itanic with its new X3 chipset and will no longer sell any gear with Intel's 64-bit chip.

Despite the Xeon-only X3 investment, IBM has made room for Opteron in the System x line. Previously, IBM sold Opteron-based systems as kind of unbranded high performance computing boxes. "We will now move all x86 products shipping into the System x nomenclature," Bretzmann said.

IBM, however, remains reticent about committing to a broader Opteron line.

"We have made the investment in X3," Bretzmann said. "We have closed the gap between what you can buy from other vendors (in the way of Opteron) in a performance sense."

IBM remains in the camp that thinks the x86 SMP should do well in the coming years, particularly with improving virtualization software and maturing Linux and Windows OSes.

Along those lines, IBM has been promoting its Consolidation Discovery and Analysis Tool (CDAT) software that can help improve server utilization.

"Through the LAN, the software automatically scans resources on the IP network to discover all the computing systems across a client’s datacenter - including UNIX, mainframe and x86 servers," IBM said. "It maps the topology for the systems infrastructure, including the operating systems, utilization rates, and performance rates. The map helps identify operational cost savings for clients."

IBM believes the CDAT software gives it an edge over competitors in the x86 market and has been encouraging partners to promote it. ®

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