IBM Corp. Tuesday announced a new line of Power5 Unix and Linux servers that will give users a mainframelike ability to virtualize their systems at the processor level -- a capability some users, including Whirlpool Corp., are hoping will reduce their software and hardware costs.
The processor virtualization capability is one of the key advances in the 64-bit Power5 chip running on the vendor's eServer P5 line, IBM officials said. Each processor is also dual-core, but unlike the Power4 chip, the Power5 also has simultaneous multithreading capability, which means it can run two instruction streams in real time, or up to four threads in parallel.
IBM officials said these improvements provide performance gains of between 30% and 50%.
One of the major improvements offered by the Power4 chip, released two years ago, was its dual-core capability, a technology change that allowed for an increased workload. But the newer Power5 chip is both a technology upgrade as well as a system advance, according to Brad Day, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
IBM is "now pulling in intellectual property from other lines of business," such as logical partitioning from its mainframe group and virtual engine technology from its Tivoli Software group, said Day. The Power5 chip "has systems software and other kinds of technology beyond the server group," he said.
Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool just took delivery of a two-way Power5 system, and Robert Gamso, senior principal systems architect at the appliance maker, is planning to test it. Gamso cited the Power5 system's ability to virtualize on the microprocessor level, which has the potential of saving on hardware and software licensing costs.
Virtualizing on the processor level means that Whirlpool can reduce the number of separate network and storage-area networking cards it needs, as well as cut licensing costs on management and monitoring systems that charge on a per-CPU basis. The Power4 hardware required separate adapters; the Power5 does not.
It "doesn't always make economic sense" to add cards to achieve virtualization, said Gamso.
Gamso believes processor resources will be shared by the Asian, North American and European development groups at Whirlpool. As demand shifts over 24 hours, the processor load will shift. "When you think of how you are going to pay software charges, that starts to become very beneficial from the software standpoint and hardware standpoint," he said.
The Power5 chip is adopting virtualization technologies that previously were available only on expensive mainframe systems. But IBM officials say there remains a wide gap between mainframe capabilities and those on systems running Unix.
For instance, unlike with Linux or Unix systems, the risk of someone cracking into a mainframe system "is almost zero," said Ravi Arimilli, IBM fellow and chief architect of the IBM Systems Group. "Mainframes seem to provide a comfort zone for many customers," he added.
Unix is closing the gap over time, however, with improved security, availability and virtualization. "But the question is when -- when will that crossover happen?" said Arimilli. "I don't think it's anytime soon." He estimated that the "best case" time frame for the gap to be closed would be at least a decade.
The Power5 systems will be sold up to a 16-way model, with starting prices for the low-end model beginning at US$12,920. High-end systems will go for more than $28,000.
The systems will be available worldwide Aug. 31.
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