This wasn’t meant to be the “all-IBM, all-the-time” issue. It just turned out that way. We’d been working on an analysis of IBM’s Power5 chip for some time. And then, just as we were set to go to press — BLAM! — IBM drops a bomb: Big Blue is selling its PC business to China’s Lenovo.
The Power5 is a server processor and not part of IBM’s PC castoffs, so our cover story was still a go. But when the company that invented the personal computer announces it’s getting out of the business, that’s a watershed event — one that deserves some ink. The News department weighs in with “IBM Sells PC Unit to Lenovo” on page 18 of the print issue. Robert X. Cringely has his own take on the matter as well in Notes From the Field. That brings our IBM count to three items for this issue.
Part of the conventional wisdom — and a common thread among blogonauts and other pundits — is that IBM ceased to be a hardware company years ago. It’s a services company that happens to sell some hardware.
Although there’s much truth to that contention, our cover story proves that Big Blue remains a force to be reckoned with in the server space and beyond. InfoWorld Test Center Technical Director Tom Yager digs deep inside the silicon and copper of the latest Power5 and paints a picture of a processor par excellence. IBM’s expertise shows itself in everything from the chip’s architecture to its integrated packaging. Take a look at the cover photo. The ceramic “carrier” module nestled in our model’s hand contains four dual-core Power5 microprocessors surrounded by four Level 3 caches. The stubs studding the carrier are decoupling capacitors, which minimize noise.
IBM and other manufacturers can simply drop the carrier into a system; add memory, some I/O, fans, power, and the like; and they’ve got a high-end eight-way system. Or they can slap two carriers onto a passive board (called a “book”) that includes as much as 512GB of memory, and then pop four books into a frame to create a 64-way system. The design is a great example of integrated packaging at the system level. IBM didn’t design just the chip; it designed everything around it as well. As Joel Tendler of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group, puts it, “When you engineer things well, they’re simple.”
By the way, there’s one more IBM article in this issue: Tom Yager’s analysis of Power.org, the open-standards group coalescing around the Power CPU. Spearheaded by IBM, the 15 member companies will pool resources to speed Power architecture adoption (especially overseas) in devices from games consoles to supercomputers.
In other words, IBM isn’t getting out of the hardware business. It’s just rearranging the pieces, while we try to make sense of it all.