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Big Blue's big iron: The Biggening. Screening 2010

'This enormous mainframe will devour us all'

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"More than a mainframe ... something unique in the industry"

Neither did his boss, Rod Adkins (general manager of the Systems and Technology Group which makes and markets Big Blue's servers, storage, chips, and systems software). But Adkins confirmed that the entry and high-end Power7-based systems were slated for the second half of this year and that IBM also had plans as of March to deliver high-end machines based on Intel's Xeon 7500 processors and using its own homegrown eX5 chipset. IBM announced NUMA-scalable blade and rack servers using the eX5 chipset, including memory expansion modules unlike anything it has ever delivered with a server before.

The HX5 blade server (two-socket, expandable to four by going double-wide) and System x3960 (two-socket) and x3850 X5 (four-socket) X5 rack servers start shipping on June 24. Adkins, speaking at IBM's annual investor event in New York, did not give out any specifics about the future eX5 machines, but it is likely that IBM will deliver a four-chassis NUMA-like SMP machine as it does on the current System x lineup and with the Power-based servers, most likely based on the System x3850 X5 chassis. That should mean 16 sockets and 16 memory slots per 4U chassis, and using 16 GB sticks, which adds up to a machine that can span 128 cores and 1 TB of memory without resorting to Max5 memory extenders.

IBM has said very little about the future System z11 mainframe, has been anticipated since IBM conceded it was coming last October when the mainframe biz slowed down and which IBM admitted more recently in discussing its first quarter financials that the new mainframe is due in the second half. IBM has said very little about the mainframe engines in these machines, but as El Reg has previously reported, the scuttlebutt is that IBM will stick with the four-core configuration used in the current z6 engines in the System z10 mainframes and crank the clock on the chips to boost performance that way. Mainframe operating systems don't scale well past 64 cores in a single system image, so cranking the clocks to 5 GHz or so, as some have suggested will happen, is a good use of the shrink from 65 nanometer to 45 nanometer wafer baking processes.

What Adkins did say about the future IBM mainframe due in the second half of this year is that it would be a "system of systems," including both Power and x64 server blades under its skins and allowing the "ability to integrate across the data center." Adkins made some noise about this being "more than a mainframe" and "something unique in the industry." But that's not so. IBM's own AS/400 midrange systems have had x86 and x64 co-processors since 1994, and the Unisys ClearPath mainframe line has offered hybrid MCP and OS 2200 mainframe engines mixed with Xeon engines running Windows and Linux for more than a decade, and these Xeon engines now support emulated versions of MCP and OS 2200, too.

This new IBM mainframe is also supposed to include what Adkins called "special purpose analytic optimizers," which probably means running Cognos and SPSS routines on these Power or x64 blade servers slotted into the System z11 box instead of on much more expensive mainframe engines.

No word on Opteron-based systems using the new twelve-core 6100 series or forthcoming eight-core 4100 series processors from Advanced Micro Devices. IBM has been as quiet as a mouse about its plans for Opteron-based machines. Just like Oracle, formerly known as Sun. ®

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