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IBM rejiggers x64 servers, blades

Fat Opteron plus new chassis, disks, SSDs

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BladeCenter rejigger

This week, IBM has also rejiggered its BladeCenter E chassis for blade servers. The E machine is distinct from other chassis from Big Blue in that it is aimed at customers who want to conserve energy and know they are going to be using lower-powered components. The BladeCenter E is a 7U rack-mounted chassis that supports 14 full-height blade servers, which is 2U smaller than the standard BladeCenter H chassis.

It has 1U of space for cooling on the top and bottom of the chassis because it assumes you are going to use hotter components and will therefore need 2,900 watt redundant power supplies and 240-volt power. There is also a BladeCenter S chassis for SMB shops, a 7U box that has room for six blades and storage and modest 120-volt power supplies, and other variants for telco and other ruggedized environments that want DC power.

The new BladeCenter E chassis comes with either 2,000 watt or 2,300 watt power supplies (up from just 2,000 watts with the prior E chassis, and now up to four power supplies) and now includes a module that tracks real-time power usage and provides statistics at the chassis level to administrators. IBM has also tossed in an ultraslim DVD drive and a USB 2.0 port that are shared by the blades. The E chassis using 2,000 watt power supplies costs $3,665, while the one supporting 2,320 watt supplies costs $3,999. Two power supplies come standard in the unit. All of IBM's blade servers can plug into this new E chassis or any other BladeCenter chassis IBM has ever sold.

Now, on to disk drives. The System x and BladeCenter machines now have hot-swap, 2.5-inch SAS disks in 146 GB capacities and spinning at 15K RPM. IBM has been peddling small form factor SAS drives spinning at 10K in 73 GB, 146 GB capacities already. It has also added a 300 GB 10K RPM unit. This means customers wanting to move to smaller drives do not have to sacrifice performance.

The 73 GB and 146 GB 15K drives have an average read seek time of 2.9 ms and average latency of 2 ms. The 10K drives in 300 GB and 146 GB capacities have a read seek of 4 ms and a latency of 3 ms. The existing 73 GB 15K and 146 GB 10K drives in the 2.5-inch form factors have been updated as well, replacing existing models, and all of the new drives, regardless of capacity or spindle speed, support 6 Gbps data transfer rates. The new drives will be available for selected System x and BladeCenter machines on March 31. Pricing for the new units has not yet been announced.

And finally, the System x and BladeCenter boxes are going to get new solid state disks (SSDs), which are also being plugged into the EXP3000 disk enclosure IBM sells to x64 server customers. The details of the new SATA-style SSDs are a bit sketchy, but the company says that starting on March 31, it will sell a 2.1 watt, 50 GB SSD for its BladeCenter blade servers in a 2.5-inch disk package, and that another 50 GB SSD drive designed for higher I/O operations per second (IOPS) will also be available (and presumably running hotter) in either a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch form factor for blades and System x rack and tower servers.

At press time, IBM did not provide information on who was supplying the new SSDs to the company, and it did not have pricing information available. Nor did it detail what specific technology was used to make the SSDs. What it did say was that the SSDs support Windows, Linux (from Novell and Red Hat), and ESX Server (the hypervisor from VMware). And it said that in a two-thirds read and one-third write transaction processing environment, the SSDs would deliver up to 2,600 IOPS. By flash-based SSD standards, that is not particularly fast, but it is about ten times faster than a hard disk drive. The drive is a SATA-1 drive that supports 1.5 Gbps transfer rates, which is nowhere near the 6 Gbps rates of the SAS drives above. One would hope these 50 GB units are not going to be too expensive.

Since July 2007, IBM has been selling a 15.8 GB 2.5-inch SSD for its System x and BladeCenter boxes that costs $499. (A dual-drive SSD module sells for $999). This SSD was rated at more than 5,000 IOPS on reads and burned at about 2 watts. It is also a SATA-1 drive. ®

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