IBM pushes new integrated, lower-cost Linux servers

IBM is offering a combination of the Linux OS and Power7 processors in new servers

IBM announced new "affordable" Linux servers on Wednesday as the company tries to push its new category of preconfigured servers for virtualization and big data to midmarket and enterprise customers.

The PowerLinux systems contain integrated hardware, software, networking and storage, and are configured to cater to specific requirements. The servers, which combine IBM's Power7 processors with the Linux OS, are priced as low as US$20,000 and go beyond $100,000, depending on client configuration choices.

One of the new systems is the two-socket IBM FlexSystem p24L server, which is a part of the recently introduced PureSystem integrated servers that are quicker to deploy than custom-built servers. The new servers are for the midmarket and large enterprises and are competitive on price and performance compared to industry-standard x86 servers, IBM officials said.

The company picked specific Linux workloads that play well with Power processors, such as Apache Hadoop, and the servers are able to execute those workloads faster than industry-standard x86 processors, said Scott Handy, vice president of PowerLinux strategy and business development.

The Power processors can run four threads per core, compared to two per core for the standard x86 processors from Intel. The highly threaded application performance especially applies to resource-intensive applications such as analytics or databases, Handy said.

The servers also provide a scalable virtualized environment with IBM's PowerVM virtualization software, and customers don't have to incur software licensing costs related to multiple copies of x86 virtualization products, Handy said.

"If you look at our base hardware and virtualization, we are below our competitors' prices for the same stacks," Handy said.

IBM already offers midrange Power Express servers that run on Power chips and Linux software. But the hardware and software are more tightly knit on the PowerLinux servers, IBM said.

IBM is offering a package that combines SAP database software with PowerLinux servers. Other combinations include InfoSphere BigInsights on PowerLinux, which will be available on June 15. BigInsights works with Apache Hadoop to manage and analyze volumes of structured and unstructured data.

While virtualization and big data are key to certain server environments, IBM will address enterprise requirements like cloud on PowerLinux through future offerings, said Marci Zampi, director of PowerLinux solutions.

The IBM FlexSystem p24L server is a two-socket server with 12 or 16 Power 7 processor cores and is built from the ground up with integrated hardware, networking, storage and software. The second offering is the PowerLinux 7R2 server, which is a variant of a standard two-socket rack server. The servers support multiple Linux operating systems including Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Suse Linux Enterprise Server.

IBM's Power processors also go into mainframes for critical tasks, but the new combination lowers the entry price point. IBM is the third-largest server company, and while its server revenue fell by a slight margin in the fourth quarter last year, the high-end Power-based systems did well and generated revenue growth, buoyed by a strong cyclical demand for mainframes, according to Gartner.

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