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IBM to Ship First Summit System in December, 16-Way On Tap

The market for large SMP servers based on Intel Corp. processors will gain a second competitor in early December when IBM Corp. begins shipping its "Summit" system in limited quantities.

The timing is based on the release of Intel's next generation of multiprocessing Xeon chips, code-named "Foster MP." A two-way version of the Xeon, which features a 400-MHz front-side bus, has been out for several months.

Intel is expected to release the Xeon MP in the first quarter of 2002, but IBM will be able to make some systems available in December under Intel's early ship program.

The system, which IBM calls the eServer x360, ratchets up competition in the market for Intel-based systems with more than eight processors -- a market that has been the exclusive domain of Unisys Corp. since late 1999.

It is built on what IBM calls its Enterprise X-Architecture, which went by the code-name "Summit" when IBM began talking about the chipset over the summer.

"We think we have a game-changing technology," says Jay Bretzmann, director of xSeries server marketing at IBM.

The servers will ship in four-processor blocks or bricks, which work as standalone boxes. Up to four of the blocks can be connected through a high-speed scalability port, creating a 16-processor logical machine. The early versions that ship in December will only be available as four-ways. The 16-way capability will follow the general availability of the Xeon MPs.

IBM is claiming industry firsts in stuffing the four processors into 3U of rack space; and in providing a separate, rack-mountable I/O unit called the RXE100.

Unisys contends IBM is validating the market for larger, Intel-based systems. Unisys currently offers up to 32 processors in its ES7000 server and has a roadmap to double, then quadruple, that capacity.

"We have been waiting for another major player in our market to help legitimize, add credibility to, and condition the market to mainframe- class Windows computing," says Pete Samson, vice president and general manager of Unisys technology sales development. "We've been like a voice in the wilderness. A lot of people have been equating [Windows] Datacenter [Server] with Unisys and not with Microsoft."

IBM is emphasizing a "pay-as-you-grow" feature of the servers. IBM says the approach limits any penalty customers pay to reserve headroom in traditional large systems, and IBM draws a direct comparison to Unisys there. Unisys' Samson says Unisys is preparing a pay-as-you-grow program for the ES7000 that will be available around the same time as the IBM systems reach greater-than-eight-way capability.

Similar to the Unisys ES7000, the IBM server will run either 32-bit or 64-bit processors, although the choice must be made at the factory. Unisys systems are designed to be field-upgradeable to 64-bit. The IBM server, again like the ES7000, will also allow partitioning of the unit to run different instances of the operating system.

Christopher McConnell of Enterprise Systems contributed to this report.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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