Fastest IBM server chip enters slowing Unix market

Facing a slowing Unix market, IBM today released its Power6 processor, its fastest chip yet for high-end servers. The chip runs at double the speed of the Power5 line but uses the same amount of power.

The company also launched a server based on the chip, the System p 570, which will be available in configurations with two to 16 cores. It employs new virtualization technologies to reduce power consumption while keeping performance up. The chip and server will be available in about two weeks, IBM officials said.

Sales of pricier Unix servers are slowing as machines running Windows and Linux operating system on high-end x86 architecture processors are increasingly capable of handling high-demand applications. Intel Corp. released its dual-core Woodcrest and quad-core Clovertown Xeon processors last year, while Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is expected to release its quad-core Opteron processor, called Barcelona, later this year.

With the release of the Power6, IBM is taking aim at competitors in the Unix market, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

The Power6 is a dual-core processor that runs at 4.7 GHz. Those two cores use symmetric multithreading technology that allows them to appear as four cores, each of which can execute instruction threads. It means that heavy processing, such as that involved in airplane design or automotive crash simulations, can occur much faster.

IBM claims the Power6 chip is three times faster than the Itanium processor that HP uses in its Superdome servers and has a bandwidth 30 times greater, at 300GB/sec.

To accompany the new processor, IBM also announced the beta release of virtualization technology, supported by Power6 and the p 570, that allows the live transfer of virtualized partitions and workloads to other servers in a process called live partition and application mobility. General availability is scheduled for later in the year, IBM said.

The latest version of IBM's Unix operating system, AIX 6, which is due in November, will include features such as encryption of the file system, the ability to move workloads during maintenance and a new graphical user interface and console. A beta version will be available for download in July, IBM said.

Power6 is the first processor that can do decimal floating-point arithmetic in its hardware rather than requiring software, IBM said. That will allow software compiled for the chip to more quickly process intensive tax, financial and ERP applications.

IBM officials stressed Power6's "green" credentials when it comes to power consumption. An improvement in Power6's design is the separation of circuits that can't support low voltages, thus allowing power to be reduced on other circuits in the rest of the chip, the company said.

"The crisis data center managers are facing ... is around energy, space and efficiency," said Bill Zeitler, senior vice president for IBM's systems and technology group.

The chip's bandwidth can also be adjusted according to whether more performance or lower power consumption is needed. Processor clocks can be turned off when not being used, and power can be shut off to parts of the memory when it's not being used.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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