IBM unveils Power7 blades, low-end edition of AIX

The blade servers are based on IBM's new Power7 processor, which packs up to eight cores on each chip

IBM is beefing up its server lineup with the first blades based on its Power7 processor, the company announced Tuesday. It is also introducing a new, low-end edition of its AIX operating system for smaller businesses and enterprises doing consolidation projects.

IBM plans to ship three Power7 blades on June 4. The new processor crams eight cores onto each chip, compared with two for the Power 6, though IBM can disable half the Power7 cores in order to sell it in lower-end configurations.

[ InfoWorld compares the leading blade server solutions: "Blade server shoot-out: Dell, HP, and IBM battle for the virtual data center." ]

It will thus offer an entry-level blade with four Power7 cores enabled; a mid-level blade with all eight cores enabled; and a "doublewide" blade that snaps two servers together for a total of 16 cores, said Steve Sibley, director of marketing for IBM's Power system line. The blades are the PS700, PS701 and PS702 Express.

The blades will be able to accommodate 128GB of memory per server, double that of the Power6-based systems, he said. IBM is positioning the new products as general purpose servers for running back-end applications and databases, and says the extra memory footprint makes them well suited for virtualization and server consolidation.

Customers can slip the Power7 blades into an existing chassis alongside Power6 and x86 blade servers, Sibley said. Customers who buy the four-socket blade can't turn on the other cores at a later time, however. IBM permits that only on its higher-end systems.

IBM also announced an update to its IBM i software, formerly the i5/OS, which bundles a database, OS and web server in a single package. The new release, version 7.1, will recognize when a system is using solid-state drives and configure itself automatically to take advantage of them, Sibley said. It will also support XML natively in the database.

IBM is also releasing a new edition of AIX 6, called AIX 6 Express, that will carry a lower entry price and be limited to four processor cores per image and 8GB of memory per core.

It's designed partly to provide a lower entry point for smaller customers, Sibley said. It is also for customers consolidating several smaller AIX workloads onto a larger machine. Those customers sometimes don't need a version of AIX that scales to the maximum core count. And while the Express edition is limited to four cores, customers are allowed to run it within a partition on a larger server, he said.

AIX 7, an update to IBM's flagship Unix OS which customers will need to take full advantage of IBM's Power7 processors, will be released in beta this summer, with general availability due in the second half of the year, Sisley said.

Customers will be able to run AIX 6 on top of the new OS, something IBM has not enabled before. That means they'll be able to upgrade a server to AIX 7 but still run existing applications on the older environment. IBM says the OSes are binary compatible, and that AIX 6 applications will run fine on AIX 7. "It's more of a business process issue," Sibley said.

"Sometimes applications or tools are a bit different and the customer doesn't want to go through the whole qualification process" for a new OS, he said.

Finally, IBM announced Rational Developer for Power V7.6, which it said would give AIX users "a modern, Eclipse-based development environment that supports C/C++ and COBOL development, and is also tightly integrated with Rational Team Concert for Power Systems for improved application lifecycle management."

It also introduced Rational compilers for C/C++ and Fortran.

IBM officials were unable to provide prices late Monday for any of the new products being announced Tuesday.

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