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23 April 2012, 16:37

IBM announces Linux servers with POWER7 CPUs

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Zoom IBM's PowerLinux 7R2 is structurally identical to the Power 730 Express server
Source: IBM
IBM will release its first Linux-only servers to directly compete with x86-x64 servers such as those offered by Dell and HP. The new PowerLinux 7R2 servers – the term "7R2" indicates that it's a POWER7 server that's two rack units tall – are mainly intended for three areas: the analysis of large, mostly unstructured amounts of data (Big Data Analytics) such as IBM's InfoSphere Streams or InfoSphere BigInsight with Hadoop, to deliver business application solutions such as those from SAP, and, open source infrastructure services.

In a pricing comparison, the company includes VMware's vSphere Enterprise 5 on its competitors' side and includes licences for Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux Enterprise. A PowerLinux 7R2 system with two 3.55 GHz POWER7s, 32GB of RAM, two 300GB hard drives, four 1Gb network controllers, SAS (Serial Attached SCSI), RAID and a DVD drive costs $21,282. When compared to an x86-64 server with vSphere 5.0 Enterprise, PowerVM for IBM PowerLinux comes out worse because it can only accept Linux guests; the virtualisation component refuses to accept AIX 6.2 or i5 and earlier versions. However, the 7R2 scores with its four threads per core, a hardware hypervisor, 16 virtual CPUs per VM and unlimited virtual memory – VMware limits its licences to 64GB of virtual memory and eight CPUs per socket.

IBM ships its systems with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 (RHEL 6) or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP1 (SLES 11) already configured. The company also offers an installation toolkit and an almost complete software developer package comprising an SDK (System Development Kit), an advanced tool chain that includes the latest GNU tools and is assembled, tested and supported by IBM, a repository that is accessible via a single URL and various contributions from the developer community. Fedora and Debian can also be installed on 7R2 servers but are not supported by IBM.

Although IBM is a major contributor to the development of Linux – after all, the open source operating system has been running on IBM's mainframe, System z, for the past 12 years – the company is not generally considered to be a typical supplier of Linux servers. This is mainly due to the proprietary hardware: POWER7 processors are designed for business use and for supercomputers (from position 74 in the Top 500 list 11/2011); IBM handed over the manufacturing and marketing of x86/x64 laptops, PCs and servers in the Think series to Lenovo in 2004.

In addition to the AIX Unix operating system and i (formerly OS/400), an operating system for mid-range computers, IBM server owners can also install PowerLinux. This is mainly attractive because current IBM systems are equipped with a hardware-based virtualisation component in which operating systems run in a "logical partition" (LPAR) even if only one operating system is installed. However, IBM is in danger of falling behind servers with CPUs by Intel or AMD – this is mostly because of the proprietary hardware that is used in dual processor servers.


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