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IBM Rearchitects x86 Server Memory

IBM (NYSE:IBM) is trying to make x86-based servers more scalable in virtualized environments by allowing memory to scale independently of the rest of the system.

IBM on Tuesday used the CeBIT trade show in Germany to unveil its new eX5 line of servers which allows memory to scale to up to four times that of existing servers, said Roland Hagan, vice president of System X servers for the vendor.

The new server line comes at a time when an increase in the proliferation of servers to meet new customer workloads, especially for virtualization, has become the major contributor to the increase in data center power consumption, Hagan said.

This is because virtualization requires increased memory as the number of virtual servers and appliances increases, requiring additional processors and servers in order to increase the amount of memory available, he said.

“x86 servers are based on the PC architecture, which ties processors to memory,” he said. “With eX5, we break the bond between the system and the memory and allow the memory to scale independently.”

To increase memory scalability without increasing the number of servers, IBM introduced its MAX5 architecture, which allows the memory in eX5 servers to scale to up to six times existing servers, Hagan said. IBM is doing this via a drawer in the server chassis with 32 DIMM slots in 4U and 2U servers, as well as 24 DIMM slots in blade servers.

IBM is also introducing solid state disk drives (SSDs) with its eX5, with some servers able to be configured with up to eight 200-GB SSDs for a total storage capacity of 1.2 TBs.

Also new is FlexNode, which is a series of software-based enhancements to the company’s System Director Suite of management software that allows a 4-socket server to be dynamically configured as two 2-socket servers or one 4-socket server, Hagan said.

This feature lets customers run four sockets during the day and two sockets at night to cut power and software licensing costs, he said.

“As clients migrate more workloads to the x86 architecture, they need that reliability and flexibility,” he said. “They can save up to 50 percent of their software licensing costs by running on half the sockets.”

The new 4-socket servers based on the eX5 architecture are scheduled to roll out in the second and third quarters of this year. IBM is also planning to introduce a new family of 2-socket and 4-socket Blade Center blade servers, the HX5, based on the eX5 platform, Hagen said.

IBM and Lenovo have an agreement under which Lenovo produces servers based on IBM technology, but that agreement does not extend to the eX5 platform, Hagan said.

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