John G. Spooner
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
IBM wants even its least-expensive servers to think bigger.
On Tuesday, the company introduced a new family of servers with X3, an updated version of its homegrown "Summit" server chipset.
The X3 aims to bring more mainframe-like capabilities, such as virtualization, to relatively inexpensive servers based on Intel chips. The move is meant to boost the machines' performance and set them apart from competitors'.
Chipsets shuttle data to and from a processor; they also control input-output. In these senses, the role of the chipset is like that of a person's central nervous system.
Server makers generally use chipsets from Intel or ServerWorks, now a division of Broadcom. However, IBM chose to take its own path in 1998. At that time, the company began to devote more effort to designing Intel processor servers, launching an effort to create its own chipset.
IBM has since used its own server chipsets; it first introduced servers containing its Summit chipset in late 2001. Its chipsets help differentiate IBM's machines from those built by Dell or Hewlett-Packard, companies that also use Intel processors.
This time around, IBM said its X3 designers took measures such as reducing processor-to-memory latency. Reducing latency helps speed up the delivery of data from main memory to the processor, boosting performance. IBM also said the X3 chipset incorporates its Virtualization Engine—technology that helps partition the server to tackle several different jobs simultaneously—and costs less than its predecessor. Thus, IBM will tell customers, a single higher-performance X3-based server can take over the jobs of multiple older servers already in use.
IBM will spread the X3 chipset to a number of machines over time. Its first X3-based server will be the eServer xSeries 366, which the company said is capable of incorporating four of Intel's latest 64-bit-capable Xeon processors. It will also be able to accommodate dual-core Xeons, once those chips become available. The xSeries 366 will start at about $6,000 and will be available in about 90 days, IBM said in a statement.
Big Blue has also discussed the idea of X3 servers that have far more processors. Last year, IBM executives predicted they would release a 64-processor machine that uses the chipset.