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IBM's fresh Unix (1) boxes maul old HP servers

Power upgrade meets software downgrade

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IBM today mucked up a perfectly good Unix server announcement by coating it in a vague, software ooze.

As expected, IBM has ratcheted up the speed of the dual-core Power5+ processor and then crammed the chip in its high-end boxes. Customers will find the 16-processor System p5-590 and 32-processor p5-595 shipping with 2.1GHz versions of the Power5+ chip starting on Aug. 11. A 2.3GHz version of the chip will also be available for the p5-595 system. With that 2.3GHz chip, IBM expects up to a 30 per cent performance boost over kit running on the 1.9GHz Power5.

IBM has also started shipping more flavors of the Power5+ for its lower-end systems. Customers will find a one-core 1.9GHz chips with no L3 cache, a two-core 1.9GHz chip with 36MB of L3, a two-core 2.GHz chip with 36MB of L3 and a four-core (MCM) 1.65GHz chip with two 36MB L3 caches.

IBM's processor refresh follows Intel's release last week of the dual-core "Montecito" version of the Itanium 2 processor. The arrival of the new chips has prompted IBM and HP to re-ignite their high-end server benchmark war.

IBM, for example, claims it has released the "world's most powerful server (1)" with a TPC-C score of 4,016,222 on the 32-processor p5-595. That beat out HP's Integrity Superdome running on - ahhh, here's the (1) - old single core versions of Itanium. In fact, HP submitted its Integrity result way back in November of 2005, so IBM beats the hell out of yesteryear's server.

Of course, it's no surprise to see IBM hammering away on ancient gear with the Power5+ boxes. Customers once expected IBM to push the speed of the Power5 chip up to 3.0GHz. Instead, IBM has trickled out a slight speed increase here and there and has lost much of its dramatic performance lead over Intel and Sun Microsystems.

Adding to IBM's disappointments is the fact that the company did not release pricing for the new Unix servers.

And now to the ooze.

IBM has resisted the need to change its Unix software pricing models to deal with the arrival of dual- and soon four-core chips. The vendor extended the resistance policy today by revealing that it plans to adopt a "processor value units" pricing model.

Get ready for this.

In the coming months, IBM will force customers to buy software 100 processor value units at a time. It will, for example, take 100 units to fire up DB2 on a one-way dual-core Xeon-based server and 200 units to fire up the same database on a two-way dual-core Xeon-based server.

Up until now, IBM had agreed to count dual-core Xeons and Opterons as single chips, while counting its own Power products on a per-core basis in software pricing models. That policy made sure IBM could still charge a premium for WebSphere and DB2 running on Unix.

Meanwhile, the likes of BEA, VMware and Microsoft have vowed to count all mutlicore processors as a single chip, while Oracle has crafted an odd formula of its own.

So far, IBM wins the contest for the oddest model of all. We can't wait to see what the processor value unit method really entails when IBM starts showing it customers. ®

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