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IBM pumps out two Xeon rackers

Cost-cutters ahead of the Sandy Bridge onslaught

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It may seem odd that IBM would update two x86 servers when Intel is prepping its "Sandy Bridge-EP" Xeon E5 processors for launch in early 2012, but the cut-throat competition in the server racket waits for no chip launch. And thus, IBM is revving up two "value priced" Xeon-based servers to compete against Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and others without having to cut prices on existing System x machines with pricier components.

The two updated machines are the System x3620 M3 and x3630 M3. The M3 designation means that they use Intel's current "Westmere-EP" Xeon 5600 processors, which come in variants with two, four, or six cores. Because the future Xeon E5 processors have a different processor socket from those used by the "Nehalem-EP" Xeon 5500s and the Xeon 5600s, these two machines will not be upgradeable to the Xeon E5s.

The System x3620 M3 is a 2U rack-mounted workhorse, not precisely a Belgian draft horse like other System x machines but one capable of pulling a wagon and a plough. The x3620 M3 has a dozen DDR3 main memory slots and supports 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB memory sticks, so it tops out at 192GB of main memory.

The machine supports up to four 3.5-inch simple swap SATA disks or eight 3.5-inch hot swap SAS or SATA drives. The drives top out at 3TB, for a maximum of 24TB. (This may be just enough for a modern Hadoop configuration if you stick to four-core processors.) Of course, IBM is charging $1,049 for that 3TB drive compared to $575 for the 2TB drive and #329 for the 1TB drive, so companies will be sorely tempted to go with the skinnier units.

Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard Edition is preloaded on the box, and those simple swap SATA drives can be striped or mirrored using the RAID 0 and RAID 1 features of the Windows operating system, thereby obviating the need for an on-board RAID controller.

The System x3620 M3 has PCI-Express 2.0 peripheral slots (the future Xeon E5s will sport faster and fatter PCI-Express 3.0 slots), and specifically it has two full height, half-length x8 slots and one low profile x4 slot. It also has a dual-port Intel 82575 Gigabit Ethernet controller on the system board. The machine comes with a regular 460 watt power supply or a more efficient (92 per cent) 675 watt supply if you need more juice.

IBM's System x3620 M3 server

IBM's System x3620 M3 server

The server has an internal USB slot where you can plug in a 2GB key preloaded with VMware's ESXi 4.0 server virtualization hypervisor. It is not clear why IBM has not certified ESXi 5.0, which was announced last summer, on the USB stick. ESXi 4.1 is certified to run on the machine, as are the various versions of Windows Server 2003 R2 (including the Small Business Server bundle), Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2008 R2.

Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5 and 6 and Attachmate's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and 11 are also certified to run on the box. The internal KVM and Xen hypervisors that are part of those Linuxes are supported, but the freestanding KVM hypervisor from Red Hat and the standalone Xen hypervisors from Citrix Systems or Oracle are not certified on the box – but will very likely run just fine.

The System x3620 M3 will be available on January 20, and a base configuration will come with a single four-core Xeon E5620 processor running at 2.4GHz, 8GB of memory (one stick), a single 500GB disk drive, and Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard Edition preloaded. That machine will cost $1,983, according to IBM's online configurator.

You can save a couple of hundred bucks by dropping the CPU speed down to 1.6GHz with the four-core Xeon E5603. Loading this puppy up with two six-core Xeon X5560 processors, 192GB of memory, a dozen 3TB drives, and two 675 watt power supplies pushes the price up to $10,730. So you still have to fight for discounts even on a "value priced" box.

The System x3630 M3 is a similar two-socket Xeon 5600 machine, but it comes with a few more goodies, such as different peripheral slots and room for more disk drives in the same 2U of rack space.

IBM's System x3630 M3 server

IBM's System x3630 M3 server

The x3630 M3 has the same Xeon processor options and memory capacities, but offers two PCI-Express 2.0 (one x8 and one x16) plus an x4 slot that is buried in the system but, oddly enough, does not support peripheral cards - IBM does not explain why.

The system comes with two of the 675 watt power supplies and two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and it can have a dozen 3.5-inch SAS or SATA drives mounted in the front and two that plug in from the back. If you like 2.5-inch SAS or SATA drives, you can double that up to 24 drives in the front and four in the back.

The system board has RAID 0 striping and RAID 1 and 10 mirroring on the SAS or SATA drives, and you can snap in a daughter card to add RAID 5 or RAID 6 data protection (including self-encrypting disk, or SED, features, if you want to pay a little extra.)

The System x3630 M3 supports the same operating systems and hypervisors as the System x3620 M3.

With two quad-core Xeon E5607 processors running at 2.26GHz, 32GB of main memory, no disks, and a Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard Edition license will run you $3,489 in a base configuration. Loading this horse up with two six-core Xeon X5675 processors, which spin at 3.06GHz, crank the memory up to 192GB, add 24 2.5-inch disks at 1TB capacity, and burn Windows on it and you're talking $26,277. If you want a really good laugh, put 24 200GB SATA MLC flash drives on it to get the price up to $93,477.

None of these prices on the System x3620 M3 or x3630 M3 include support or IBM's Systems Director management tools, by the way, so best make sure you don't empty the petty cash. ®

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