IBM partitions eServers

IBM's new eServer systems, with technology that can partition a single processor into as many as 10 virtual servers, are company officials' hope for taking the lead in the server market.

The eServer p5 systems, introduced this week, leverage IBM's traditional strength in large mainframe systems, where partitioning has been the norm for some years, and the company's more recent push into autonomic computing and the ability of computers to largely manage themselves.

Unlike previous forms of partitioning, however, IBM's new micro-partitioning technology doesn't require a one-to-one relationship where each virtual server is dedicated to a single processor, disk drive and Ethernet adapter. In the p5 systems, processors are assigned to a pool of partitions that share disk drive and network resources.

Each of the eServer's 64-bit Power5 processors can be split into as many as 10 partitions, said Jim McGaughn, director of eServer strategy at IBM System Group, so theoretically a four-way machine could host as many as 40 virtual servers.

A hypervisor -- a firmware component sitting between the software and hardware -- acts as a traffic cop, allocating resources as workloads change. If a particular process requires more than the one-tenth processor power, for example, the hypervisor can assign several partitions to it practically on the fly.

"If you can match workload more precisely to this kind of granular partitioning ability, then the whole system efficiency goes way up," McGaughn said.

Even more efficiency is squeezed out by the ability to allocate input/output resources such as disk drives and network adapters, he said. Back-end processes that don't need to get onto the network or Internet so often, for example, can be provided with just partial access to Ethernet adapters, leaving most access open to those processes that need the bandwidth.

The new p5 systems can run the latest versions of IBM's AIX Unix operating system as well as Linux versions from Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc.

IBM officials say the new systems perform at levels well ahead of most of the benchmarks posted by rivals Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Development Co. LP.

EServer p5 systems are available for ordering in various configurations starting at just less than $13,000, and they will start shipping at the end of August. All are available on IBM's General Services Administration schedule contracts.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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