With the introduction of the OpenPower 720 server, IBM's new Linux-only server based on its Power5 processor, Big Blue has made another play aimed at solidifying Linux's role in mainstream computing.
The OpenPower 720 server uses the same hardware as IBM's eServer i5 and eServer p5 systems, IBM's next generation iSeries and pSeries systems based on the Power5 chip. The chip utilizes 64-bit architecture that provides higher performance than 32-bit architecture by handling twice as many bits of information in the same amount of time.
IBM will target the new entry-level server directly at the Sun Microsystems x86 Sun Fire server customers. The Sun Fire V60x and V65x are servers based on 64-bit architecture and can run Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE Enterprise Linux Server operating systems. Both the V60x and V65x run on Intel Xeon processors.
Gordon Haff, senior analyst and IT adviser with Nashua, N.H.-based analyst firm Illuminata Inc., said the new Linux-tuned server, aimed at small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), will get IBM on equal footing with the likes of Sun's x86 servers.
Haff said the Power5 is a very specialized processor for mostly Unix workloads, and by "opening" the Power5 to Linux with OpenPower, IBM is looking to broaden the processor's appeal and break away from the specialist feel.
Currently, IBM trails Sun and Hewlett-Packard Co. in server revenue. According to a recent report, overall shipments of servers priced below $5,000, including servers from IBM, HP and Sun, generated $3.5 billion in revenue last year. Sun still tops the chart, but IBM's introduction of a $5,000 Linux-based OpenPower 720 could tighten the race.
Brian Connors, vice president of worldwide Linux on Power Business Line for IBM, pointed to the growing demand for Linux. Sales of the open source operating system is growing at twice the rate of Windows and has started to move past the edges of Web serving into mission critical operations in the enterprise, he said.
Connors said IBM is riding the wave of the success it has had with the Power5 in the mid- to high-end markets and moving it into the SMB space.
Haff said OpenPower will also give IBM equal footing with the x86 if customers wish to consolidate several of their servers, as the 720 is a very capable consolidation server with very strong virtualization capabilities.
Server virtualization, a process of "carving up" a system into smaller servers to improve manageability, has been available as an add-on from vendors like Palo Alto, Calif.-based Vmware Inc., but Haff said IBM has built this into its Power processors.
While developers have already had a Linux capable server in the x86, Haff said IBM has several developer programs already in place to support the OpenPower 720.
"What really has changed … is that [IBM] is clearly making a strong push of Linux and Power rather than just talking," Haff said.
According to IBM, the server will begin shipping Sept. 24, with prices starting at $5,000. An OpenPower virtualization option will be available the fourth quarter of 2004 for $2,000.