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Big Blue Gets Cool

'Cool Blue' Brings Top-End Linux/Windows Servers to Business Side

  • August 7, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

With its new round of "Cool Blue" PC servers, rolled out last week, IBM is starting to push HPC (high-performance computing) beyond the scientific-technical niche and into the mainstream, particularly among SMBs (small to mid-sized businesses). More business-oriented software solutions are becoming available for Linux and Windows editions of the servers alike, but a set of built-in innovations for making the most of electrical power could act as an even stronger draw for the five new servers.

During a press conference held in New York to launch the AMD Opteron-based systems, IBM brass maintained that blade computing is now making the transition from the "early adopter" to the "early majority" stage.

"Move.com is moving from Dell," illustrated Susan M. Whitney, IBM's general manager for System X.

In a meeting with LinuxPlanet in NY later that day, IBM's VP for Deep Computing, contended that IBM wants to avoid mistakes of the ilk made by some other makers of high-end systems. Consequently, IBM won't be focusing too exclusively on "the top of the pinnacle" applications, he said.

Indeed, some of the IBM customers and business partners on hand at the event upheld the notion that blades and other HPC systems are starting to be used for solutions outside the usual realm of oil exploration. financial services risk analysis, and the like.

Iris Wireless, for example, has already bought some of the new Cool Blue servers from IBM, said Peter A. Rinfret, president and CEO for the wireless messaging and applications provider, another speaker at the press conference.

Rinfret estimated that IBM's new power management features can cut a company's cooling bills in half.

"And it's a good way to avoid parboiling your employees, which does offend people," he joked.

In an interview at the event later, Rinfret declined to put a dollar figure on the computers purchased from IBM, or to specify how many servers were bought. But he told LinuxPlanet that the new PCs constitute about two to three percent of the installed base in Iris's existing data center.

At the same time, Medtronic is actively looking into the prospect of purchasing Cool Blue servers for its data centers, said Scott Dyson, senior systems administrator for the medical technology provider, who was also on hand in New York.

Medtronic's data centers run mostly Microsoft Windows, according to Dyson. "But we also have some Linux," he told LinuxPlanet.

"Most of today's solutions [for HPC systems] actually operate on Linux," noted Raisal Ahmen, solutions marketing manager for xSeries and BladeCenter, during another interview.

Yet to meet business-oriented application requirements, IBM and third-party developers and integrators are working on both sides of the operating systems fence.

In a product demo at the event, for instance, IBM showed a new ERP system from SSA Global, aimed mainly at midrange manufacturing firms, which currently runs on Novell SuSE Linux only.

"Linux is just the first operating system this [application] has been developed for," according to Ann Saydah of IBM's WebSphere Business Development Group.

Also last week, however, IBM announced a partnership deal around its existing blade-based e-mail archiving system. Increasingly targeted at compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley and other government regulations, the archiving system is already on the market for both Linux and Windows.

Under the deal, Tech Data Systems will distribute the Windows version � which uses IBM E-Mail Search for CommonStore for Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange -- among its resellers.

But according to Jonathan L. Prial, IBM's VP of Content Management and Discovery, there's really no reason why the Linux edition couldn't be distributed along similar lines.

"We expect we'll do more [deals]," Prial told LinuxPlanet. "We'll be working with VADs (value-added distributors), who will take the offer to resellers."

Yet as data centers move toward virtualization, the operating system itself might become a less important selling point, suggested some attending the event, including Bill Zeitler, senior VP and group executive for the IBM Systems and Technology Group.

Still, "there will always be an operating system," Zeitler said, in response to a question on that topic, posed by LinuxPlanet during the press conference.

Meanwhile, the energy-saving features in IBM's new line-up are designed to work "inside the envelope" of companies' existing data center resources, according to Whitney.

The five new "Cool Blue" servers encompass two "enterprise-class" blade systems � the 2-way LS21 and 2-way to 4-way LS41 � along with the System x3455 high performance compute node; the System x3755, also geared largely to scientific computing; and the System x3655 "business performance server."

Business apps foreseen for the x3655 include database/ERP, business intelligence, video on demand, and IPTV.

All five servers are based on IBM's X-Architecture, a model intended to bring mainframe-like capabilities to the x86 platform.

The LS41 expands to 4-way through the use of a new snap-in blade that interconnects with the system through IBM's HyperTransport technology..

All five come with a patent-pending technology known as IBM Xcelerated Memory for reducing memory bottlenecks.

The new power management technologies built into the systems include IBM Power Executive, for metering power usage and heat emission; IBM Thermal Diagnostics; and the IBM Director and Virtualization Engine, for cutting energy usage through server consolidation and virtualization.

Industry analysts suggested that these features are likely to appeal strongly to some of IBM's existing HPC markets, while also pulling blades into some new market areas.

Financial firms on Wall Street, for example, can be particularly crunched for data center resources, said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, during another conversation.

For its part, though, Medtronic is also crunched, according to Dyson. In fact, the company recently acquired a second data center, mainly for that reason.

"We are literally running out of electricity," echoed Iris Wireless's Rinfret. Rinfret also pointed out, however, that most of IBM's new power management features only work across IBM's X Series, limiting their effectiveness for customers with lots of multiplatform legacy equipment.

"Ironically, we can't even really use these features [yet]," Rinfret said. But right now, he said, Iris is working with IBM and other vendors to locate a second data center that will help meet its electrical requirements.

So why did Iris Wireless, also a long-time Dell customer, decide to purchase new Cool Blue systems from IBM?

A big part of the answer revolves around customer service, according to Iris' CEO. "IBM not only danced with us. They did the tango with us," he told LinuxPlanet.

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