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Elite server makers open up for Shanghai Opterons

Upgrading is a snap - selling servers, not so easy

IBM is using the Shanghai launch to streamline its Opteron server lineup a bit, according to Alex Yost, vice president of the BladeCenter blade server product line. IBM currently sells a two-socket, single-width Rev F Opteron blade, called the LS22, for its BladeCenter chassis, as well as a four-socket, double-wide blade, called the LS42. The LS22 blade uses the Opteron 2000 series processors, while the LS42 blade uses the more expensive Opteron 8000 series processors but allows for two modified LS22 blades to be snapped together to create a four-socket blade. The two modified LS22 blades have an external HyperTransport link on the system board, and they snap together to create an SMP server with four sockets.

While IBM will support the Shanghai Opterons in the LS22 blades, Yost says that IBM is going to price the LS42 using the Opteron 8000s in such a way that half of an LS42 configuration will cost about the same as the LS22. This will allow customers to expand the SMP capability of their blades in the future without having to throw away their blades and Opteron 2000 processors. The support for Shanghai on the LS22s will only be available on a special bid basis, by the way, so IBM is pretty confident that customers will go for this approach. "Most people will think that for the same price, they should take the Opteron 8000s and have the expansion room," Yost says. This also means IBM only has to manufacture one blade in volume, too, which cuts its own costs.

IBM is also supporting the Shanghai Opterons in its System x 3455, a 1U rack server aimed at HPC workloads that currently sells with Barcelona standard and Special Edition (high clock speed but a lot higher watt) parts, and in its System x 3755, a four-socket server that IBM has priced at a two-socket level when only two Opterons are in the box to give customers cheap headroom without having to do a box swap from a two-socket to four-socket server.

IBM will ship Shanghai chips in the BladeCenter LS22 and LS42 blades by the end of November and will ship it in the System x 3455 and 3755 machines in early 2009. You can buy any of these four machines with Barcelona chips now, but given the benefits of the Shanghai chips, this seems foolish.

Dell, which came late to the Opteron game, will have the Shanghai chip available in three PowerEdge blade servers - the M605, M805, and M905 - four PowerEdge rack servers - the 2790 and SC1435, which are older designs, and the R805 and R905, which are newer designs - and one tower server - the T605.

Sally Stevens, director of PowerEdge marketing, says that Dell has tweaked the BIOS in the PowerEdge machines so the chipsets can make use of the extra HyperTransport link between the Shanghai processors to boost the performance of the boxes by as much as 12 per cent. In Dell's own benchmark tests, in part because of this HyperTransport tweak, the two-socket PowerEdge R805 and four-socket R905 servers are showing as much as a 49 per cent performance increase on virtualization benchmarks, such as VMware's VMark test. On generic tests, Stevens says that on Dell's own lab tests, the Shanghai systems are showing an average of a 37 per cent improvement in performance/watt on a range of benchmarks. All told, AMD says that 25 different systems will be certified to use the Shanghai chips between now and the end of the year. The question now is just how much server budget there will be to splurge on all this horsepower and efficiency. ®

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