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IBM Unveils Unix Server

IBM's eServer p690 includes 32 Power4 processors and new management capabilities.
IBM Wednesday unveiled eServer p690, a high-end 32-processor Unix server that it claims will outperform more populated servers from Sun Microsystems. But its management capabilities and price may be what will catch the attention of IT execs.

While the p690 tops out at 32 Power4 RISC processors, multiple p690s can be clustered together in a massively parallel environment to create a supercomputer with thousands of processors. The p690's Power4 is based on two processors that each have clock speeds of more than 1 GHz. IBM combines switch, memory cache, and input/output in a way that lets users move data between cache and processor at 125 Gbytes per second.

While the benchmark wars wage among Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun, as well as dark horse Fujitsu Ltd. and its 128-processor Solaris-based machine, IT execs might be more interested in features other than number of processors. For the first time outside the mainframe, the p690 offers 16 software-based partitions to run multiple workloads. IBM says it will also be possible to dynamically reconfigure the partitions in response to changing business demands. Finally, the memory board will track common errors in cache movement and automatically deallocate the offending section before it causes downtime. Cache failures often cause servers to crash. The p690 will ship in December and will be priced at $450,000 for eight processors, 8 Gbytes of memory, and 36.4 Gbytes of storage.

Giga Information Group analyst Brad Day believes one of the p690's greatest benefits will be the lower prices customers pay to software vendors. "Oracle leads the way, and this Power4 architecture is a game changer because Oracle is charging customers per processor," Day says. "Compared to Sun, with 64 or more processors, customers could do more workload on a lower processor count and save software-licensing costs."