Data Centers

First look: IBM's new x86 servers take aim at the cloud

Scott Reeves looks at the latest x 86 servers from IBM.

Last Tuesday IBM made two major announcements. The first was the unveiling of the new NeXtScale nx360 m4 server. This represents the latest addition to IBM's x86 range. The second announcement was the release of the x3650 M4 HD. This represents a new addition to the company’s line of storage arrays.

The NeXtScale nx360 m4 (shown in Figure A) is a half width, 1U size server. Processing power is provided by two Intel Xeon E5-2600 v2 CPUs. The server supports Ethernet, fibre channel, and InfiniBand networks. In terms of Ethernet, 1GBe comes as standard on the model; it is upgradeable to 10Gbe. Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, VMware vSphere Hypervisor (ESXi), and Windows Server are the supported operating systems.

Figure A

IBMnextscaleserver_FigureA.jpg
Internal storage configuration of the server supports a variety of HDDs, including a configuration of four 1.8 inch solid state drives. The maximum capacity is 4TB internal. If desired, a Storage Native Expansion Tray (called NEX) is available. This can hold up to 8 3.5inch HDDs, for a theoretical 32TB capacity. The NEX has the same dimensions as the server, i.e., half width and 1U.

IBMnextscaleenclosure_FigureB.jpg
The server fits into a NeXtScale nt1200 enclosure (shown right  in Figure B). The enclosure has twelve bays and is 6U in height. Once you install seven of these enclosures and populate them all with servers, you have 84 servers. The half width of the nx360 server allows a higher density of servers in a given rack space. The Storage Native Expansion Tray also fits in the nt1200 chassis, enabling a mix and match configuration.

The nx360 m4 is slated for release in October 2013. The half width size and the capacity to cram more units into a rack space could prove attractive in allowing companies to grow server infrastructure faster without a substantial impact on the data centre footprint.

IBM’s second announcement was a new storage unit called the x3650 M4 HD. Processing power for the x3650 M4 HD is provided by one or two twelve core intel Xeon E5-2600 V2 CPUs. The x3650 M4 HD can support a variety of drives. For example, sixteen HDDs and sixteen SSDs can be installed in the x3650 (as shown in Figure C).

x3650 M4 HD_FigureC.jpg
Alternatively, up to twenty-four HDDs can be installed in the front of the unit. Figure D shows a configuration with sixteen HDDs installed. Hardware RAID configuration is available for 0, 1, 10, 5 and 50 configurations. The maximum capacity (at this stage) is 41.6TB.
x3650 M4 HD_FigureD.jpg
IBM’s NeXtScale system is competing against offerings from HP and Dell that are already on the market. One of the clear areas where a NeXtScale system could be used in is in cloud computing. Whether this latest offering from IBM can make inroads into the existing market remains to be seen.


About

Scott Reeves has worked for Hewlett Packard on HP-UX servers and SANs, and has worked in similar areas in the past at IBM. Currently he works as an independent IT consultant, specializing in Wi-Fi networks and SANs.

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