Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/17/ibm_opteron_servers/

New Opteron systems for IBM

Big Blue's big announcement

By Clay Ryder

Posted in Servers, 17th August 2006 10:52 GMT

At a press event in New York, IBM announced new AMD Opteron processor-based servers for its System x and BladeCenter product lines.

The portfolio of five new systems is based on the next generation of Opteron processors and is targeted at business performance computing, eg, general business needs, such as business intelligence, enterprise resource planning, etc, by leveraging IBM's Enterprise X-Architecture to bring mainframe-inspired capabilities and other high-end technology to the company's x86-based server products.

The latest offerings can deliver up to 21 per cent greater performance within the same power envelope as previous Opteron-based offerings from IBM.

Key features of the new systems include: energy-smart solutions that optimise power consumption at the chip, systems, and software levels; a "snap-in" scalable blade server that can double processing capacity in seconds; and IBM Xcelerated Memory Technology to remove bottlenecks and to speed up access to memory by 15 per cent.

The company also announced Cool Blue technologies which improve power utilisation and reduce energy costs through tools to accurately plan, monitor and control power consumption at the system, rack and data center levels.

The Cool Blue portfolio features IBM PowerExecutive, software that meters power usage and heat emissions and caps usage by a single server or group of servers at any given time; IBM Thermal Diagnostics, a thermal analyser to pinpoint and automatically correct heat-related issues in the datacenter through developing an inventory of temperature metrics and then applying a "most-likely scenario", automatically diagnosing thermal problems and enabling response by PowerExecutive, IBM Director, and service processors; and IBM Director and Virtualisation Engine, which provide a reduction in energy usage through server consolidation and systems management virtualisation technologies.

The new features that will be available during Q3 are: BladeCenter LS41, enterprise-class scalable two-way to four-way blade, targeting ERP, data marts, data warehouses, databases, and HPC clusters; BladeCenter LS21, enterprise-class two-way blade optimised for performance computing, targeting financial services, scientific, high-performance computing, and databases; System x3755, for mid-market, large enterprise customers, designed for scientific computing such as weather simulations and crash test analysis; System x3655, business-performance server, focused on database/ERP, business intelligence, IPTV, and Video on Demand applications; and System x3455, high-performance compute node, ideal for scientific and technical computing, database, and Linux clusters.

It is obvious that this is a big announcement; big in the number of products being offered, but also big - or more aptly wide - in its breadth and depth.

Opteron is no longer strictly new; however, this announcement serves clear notice that at least Big Blue is no longer pigeonholing the processor to the narrowly defined realm of high-performance computing applications. With all that Opteron has had to offer, this artificial limitation has always been perplexing to us; however, now that this (in our view) misguided positioning appears to be over, we are encouraged by IBM's investment in both the processor and the totality of these announced products and their embrace into the mainstream of the IBM System x and BladeCenter product lines.

At the same time, the performance of these solutions, especially at the three-way and higher CPU levels illustrate the value of innovation when creating a solution.

The use of HTX as opposed to PCI Express benefits memory handling and allows what the company claims to be near linear four-way scaling of processors. The ability to maintain faster front bus speeds (667MHz) to memory when deploying more than sixteen DIMMs also provides an advantage as systems and memory requirements scale upward.

The technological prowess of the AMD chip as well as the IBM hardware and software, individually all make this possible, but creative innovation in assembling components is what makes for compelling solutions.

For those with memory and compute-intensive applications, these performance innovations will likely be viewed as welcome news. Likewise, Cool Blue offers IT managers the opportunity to reign in power and cooling issues that are plaguing many data centers today.

Proactively managing power consumption not only helps improve the operational headroom of the data center, it also reduces the need for cooling by simply not creating as much heat in the first place. The power (no pun intended) of Cool Blue should not be overlooked as it represents a customized and dynamic approach to energy management within the data center: an important tool in the quest of enhanced operational efficiency.

The notion of Business Performance Computing is an interesting one that IBM is positioning as a new market segment, but also one that curiously harkens back to the basics of IT of many years past.

Prior to the specialization and marketing goofiness that started in the 1990s, IT investments used to be about improving the operations of a business to create competitive advantage, or in other terms, boosting its business performance.

While today it may require a specific statement of fact to this effect, it is, nevertheless, to our way of thinking the absolutely correct approach to take. Perhaps much like with the internet, the success of BPC will be ultimately achieved when we stop talking about it.

Nevertheless, the top IT needs of organizations remain cost-effectiveness and the ability to dynamically allocate resources to support business process. We applaud the targeting of the product offerings to specific workload combinations, a feature-focused as opposed to technology-focused view of capability, and one that we think is more in line with business as opposed to technology-focused mindsets.

Overall, we believe the processor, memory, Cool Blue, and other innovative features of these offering are timely, if not compelling, reflections of the issues facing data centers today.

Copyright © 2006, The Sageza Group

Clay Ryder is president of analyst and consulting firm The Sageza Group. Prior to founding The Sageza Group, Clay was vice president and chief analyst at Zona Research.

This article was first published at IT-Analysis.com