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Intel And IBM Spin Server Design New Ways

Intel is talking about a new chip architecture that will allow vendors like Dell to make super slim server "blades" that slide into a rack. Also, IBM is talking publicly about its latest xSeries servers, the first to use
New server architectures from Intel and IBM could give IT buyers radically new system designs to choose from by early next year. Intel last week revealed a component design that would let computer makers build super-slim, energy-saving server blades that slide into specially configured racks. IBM is developing a server that it says will eliminate the performance bottlenecks typically associated with large symmetric multiprocessing configurations.

Intel is combining a Pentium III processor with its 440GX chipset to create a subsystem to gird forthcoming server blades. A blade is essentially an entire server resting on a single board; many blades can sit together in a holding rack to create a more powerful system. Intel says the low-voltage Pentium III solves overheating problems normally associated with dense server configurations by running at just 1.1 volts.

Compaq plans to build the new Intel subsystem into its Quick Blade architecture, which the vendor expects to begin selling early next year. Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard have indicated they'll follow suit. But not all vendors are jumping on the blade bandwagon--at least not right away. IBM won't introduce its blade server until next fall.

In the meantime, IBM is preparing a server architecture of its own. Servers built on the company's forthcoming Enterprise X-Architecture, formerly code-named Summit, will feature a new IBM chipset that uses copper and silicon-on-insulator technologies to maximize speed and reduce heat buildup. Enterprise X-Architecture servers, such as the Crusader line that sources say IBM will unveil next month, will have remote I/O capabilities that let users connect up to four servers together via an expansion port to create a 16-way system. That yields better performance than simply ganging 16 processors in a single box, because it gets rid of many internal bottlenecks, IBM says.

Crusader will be powered by Intel's Xeon Foster MP chip, and sources say Intel won't begin volume shipments of the CPU until late March. So businesses will have to wait until next year before servers are widely available.

These developments are welcome, but users note recent improvements, such as more powerful Intel chips and the increased stability of Microsoft's Windows 2000 Datacenter operating system mean that Wintel servers are already offering better performance at good prices. Glenn Bonner, CIO at MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, uses a cluster of Dell Pentium III two-way Datacenter servers to drive the database at the Bellagio hotel and casino. "It gives us the performance we need," says Bonner, "so I don't see any reason to spend thousands more on Unix systems."

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter