IBM's finally revealed details of its well-trailed new line of AMD Opteron-based servers, including a snap-in daughterboard that converts a blade from a two way to a four-way device.

There are five new models aimed, said IBM senior server consultant Tikiri Wanduragala, at high performance business computing, which he described as a half-way house between HPC and standard business usage. He said markets such as the financial houses in the City of London would welcome it.

Big Blue claimed that the new systems will usher in a new era of cooler, more power-efficient blade servers, as Opterons offer more performance per watt than their Intel Xeon counterparts. The company heads the blade server sales charts and reckons that this will help it extend its lead over HP and Sun, both of whom already sell extensive ranges of Opteron-based blade servers.

IBM categorised the servers as follows:

  • BladeCenter LS41 – Enterprise class scalable two-way to four-way blade; ideal for ERP, data marts, data warehouses, databases and HPC clusters.

  • BladeCenter LS21 – Enterprise class two-way blade optimised for performance computing; ideal for financial services, scientific, high performance computing, databases.

  • System x3755 – For mid-market, large enterprise customers, ideal for scientific computing, such as weather simulations and crash test analysis.

  • System x3655 – Business performance server, ideal for database/ERP, business intelligence, IPTV and Video on Demand applications.

  • System x3455 – High performance compute node, ideal for scientific and technical computing, database and Linux clusters.

Power and cooling

IBM's continuing to address data centre power and cooling issues which, said Wanduragala, were the first thing every customer wanted to talk about. The company is bundling in with the new servers a power management application that it first unveiled a couple of months ago. IBM PowerExecutive allows IT admins to meter power usage and heat emissions, and cap the amount of power used by a single server or group of servers. In future, reckoned IBM, PowerExecutive will enable clients to develop power policies across groups of servers to reallocate energy resources on the fly.

IBM also previewed Thermal Diagnostics, a package to help IT managers identify and cure thermal issues in the data centre. It allows clients to monitor heat emissions in the data centre and determine their root causes, such as air conditioning failures. According to IBM, the system periodically scans the data centre to collect inventory, performance and temperature metrics. Software then builds a virtual model of the equipment and identifies a “most-likely scenario”, automatically diagnosing thermal problems and enabling other systems, such as PowerExecutive, IBM Director, and service processors to respond to heat-related problems.

IBM server marketing manager Stuart McRae said that the announcement followed collaboration between AMD and IBM, which has already seen AMD licensing silicon-on-insulator processor manufacturing technology from Big Blue. SOI has been a key part of AMD's ability to distance its Opterons' superior performance per watt metric from that of the Intel Xeon. "We have smart IBM and AMD engineers working together in the same building", said McRae. "They come up with cool stuff chatting at the watercooler."

Wanduragala denied that this move was a precursor to IBM's ditching Intel processors from its blade lines altogether.