IBM has laid out plans for converging its different system product lines (the x-, p-, i- and z-series) using its new multifaceted Enterprise X-Architecture technology, formerly called Summit.
Worldwide shipments of Big Blue's four-way eServer x360 processor, the first model to make extensive use of the architecture, begin next week with volume dependent on the availability of the IA-32 chipset jointly developed with Intel.
Eight-,12- and 16-way systems are due to be announced in the first quarter of next year.
"The three-chip memory controller set, including processor, I-O controller and memory, marks IBM's return to chip design," said Tikiri Wanduragala, a senior IBM server consultant. "In engineering terms we have shrunk what we had on a large motherboard from [IBM's] Sequent acquisition to three chips, reducing the cost from $60,000 to $15,000."
Systems are directly connected building blocks, each four-way block being rack-mounted 3U high. They use the Non-Uniform Memory Access processor-memory connection approach, with fast memory connections.
Wanduragala said this meant standard symmetric multi-processor (SMP) software could be used rather than costly Sequent type SMP.
This means that standard operating systems such as Windows or Linux could be run unmodified, with different operating systems or versions running on different processors. Systems could be treated as either clusters or SMP systems, he said.
High availability is now a major priority and features from the mainframe environment have been designed in. For instance, concurrent diagnostics that run whenever there are free memory cycles have been introduced from the mainframe arena.
Connection between each four-way processor is at 3.2Gbps. This was one feature implemented from IBM's eLiza self-healing systems project.
Others include chipkill, bit-steering, memory mirroring and active memory - all of which enable the system to continue when memory or chip failure occurs - as well as predictive failure analysis (PFA) taken from IBM's NetFinity range, plus software PFA that predicts and overcomes likely software failure.
Director software built into the controller was a 'must have', according to Wanduragala, because it meant that operating systems vendors could forget which chipset was being used.
"When McKinley [the IA-64 Itanium-based chipset] comes along the same software will run it," he said. Director includes capabilities such as switching operating systems on and off.
But Wanduragala said that putting all its I-O into separate boxes that would directly connect to each other was likely to be the most underrated but significant feature.
Coming from IBM's zSeries, the RXE100 box holds six or 12 PCI or PCI-X cards and, in the first release, three can be daisy-chained together.
Previously, I-O has been contained within the system which restricted the configured number of connections. By being external, the RXE100 can also be connected to more than one system, providing possibilities such as failover support. It is also designed to allow for InfiniBand in place of PCI when it becomes available.
UK pricing for four-way systems starts from £12,061 for 1.5 GHz or £16,005 for 1.6 GHz x360 with 36Gb of disk and six fully configured PCI slots.
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