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Stephen Shankland


IBM has improved the processor of its JS20 blade servers and now sells them with its AIX version of the Unix operating system, the company plans to announce Tuesday.

The changes mean the blades now are a more capable alternative to IBM’s lower-end Unix servers, such as the p610 and p615, said Tim Dougherty, director of BladeCenter strategy for IBM.

Big Blue leads competitors including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sun Microsystems in the market for blade servers, thin systems that slide side by side into a chassis like books into a bookshelf. IBM’s first blades used Intel processors, but the JS20 uses the PowerPC 970 chip that also appears in Apple’s computers.

Initial JS20 servers used a 1.6GHz PowerPC 970, but the new models use a 2.2GHz PowerPC 970FX, Dougherty said. Programs perform about 50 percent faster on the new machines, he said. The new systems are scheduled to be available Oct. 29 with a starting price of $2,699.

When introduced, the JS20 could only run Linux, but now the blades can also run AIX. The move should help the systems appeal to general business users and not just the high-performance computing specialists for which the initial JS20s were designed. AIX 5.2 is supported now, with 5.3 due by the end of the year, Dougherty said.

IBM had initially tried to release the JS20 in March, but shipments were delayed until June because of a memory problem.

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Intel-based blade boost
IBM also brought Intel’s new 3.6GHz “Nocona” models of the Xeon processors to a new edition of its HS20 blades that will ship by Nov. 12 with a starting price of $2,039. These processors include 64-bit extensions that permit more than 4GB of memory to be used easily.

IBM also brought new hard drives to its blades. Earlier models used IDE hard drives, 2.5-inch-wide models used in laptop computers. Now the blades are available with SCSI hard drives, which feature faster access speeds and larger capacity important for servers.

“For a set of customers and applications, that was a sticking point,” Dougherty said. Although SCSI drives could be used before, it required a bulky mounting method that meant only seven blades could fit in one BladeCenter chassis, instead of the standard 14.

The SCSI drives will reach the JS20 systems within a year, IBM said.

One issue with blades is that densely packed servers can create heating problems that can cause computers to crash or become unreliable. To help address the issue, IBM has been including software called PowerExecutive with its HS20 blades.

“It looks for the power hogs out there…and will start to use Intel technology to start cutting those guys back,” Dougherty said. That more advanced feature is due within a year, as is the first version of PowerExecutive for the JS20.

Today, PowerExecutive calculates power usage of a collection of blades. In the future, it will dovetail with Intel technology that can slow processors when they run too hot, Dougherty said. It also will be able to control groups of servers so that high-priority jobs keep their power and low-priority jobs are slowed down, he said.

In cooperation with Intel, Big Blue is trying to establish its blades as a de facto standard, though so far it has yet to convince Sun, HP or Dell. However, in the month since Intel and IBM began offering unfettered access to the specification, 49 partners have signed up for the program, among them Emulex and Ranch Networks.

Intel and IBM have not released the specification for the blade chassis.