IBM is innovating in servers again

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It’s good to see IBM has returned to the world of x86 server innovation with its latest eX5 line of servers announced this week. Shortly after IBM sold off its PC business to Lenovo, rumours began to circulate that its System x business wouldn’t be far behind and evidence abounded that the rumors might be true.

Outside of BladeCenter, there seemed to be no significant differentiation in IBM’s fourth generation of System x servers from the average x86 server in the 1-4 socket segment.

In prior generations, IBM had innovated in very visible ways with unique motherboard designs and server chipsets that enabled high socket counts, unique configurations and RAS capabilities, and a wide portfolio. Part of the blame could be laid at Intel and AMD’s feet as they entered the server chipset business in order to drive greater standardization and CPU empowerment.

But it looked like others in the server business were out-innovating IBM in the high volume segments during this time by finding ways to uniquely configure the hardware that strongly mirrored changing buyer behaviors.

Now with the eX5 line, IBM appears to be back. We’re by no means declaring victory for this round of servers but acknowledging the positive change.

Much of what was announced was either present before but not well marketed (some of Director’s, Tivoli Provisioning Manager’s or Open Fabric Manager’s capabilities), or catchup (Virtual Fabric versus HP Flex Fabric, for example), where others are moves ahead.

It’s the combination of Max5 for high capacity memory configurations and FlexNode to partitioning systems for licensing purposes that should be the most eye-catching for infrastructure and operations professionals.

According to Forrester surveys and inquiries nearly every enterprise is packing more VMs onto each server it purchases and has an endless thirst for memory and I/O bandwidth to keep pushing its consolidation efforts harder. In these dense situations (and especially true with the latest Xeon and Opteron CPUs) it is rarely the processor that bottlenecks, causing organizations to seek lopsided configurations.

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