Update: IBM launches business computers based on game chip

It also plans to ship low-power Intel processors in its blades

NEW YORK -- IBM will begin shipping in April a blade built on Intel Corp.'s upcoming low-power chip, a 31-watt Xeon processor that cuts the blade server's power use by about half.

IBM coupled that announcement, part of its new BladeCenter H offering, with a high-end blade product based on a chip previously used in gaming systems, its nine-core Cell processor.

The Cell-based system, developed in collaboration with Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp., is aimed at high-performance computing customers who use visualization in areas such as medical imaging, design, and oil and gas exploration. Indeed, at a demonstration here today, visitors used a joystick to navigate terrain renderings -- an experience not unlike that of using a gaming system. But IBM also sees users who process large amounts of data for business intelligence or financial calculations turning to the Cell-based hardware.

IBM isn't announcing pricing for the Cell-based blades, which have two processors, because they will be targeted at vertical markets and likely sold as part of a system that includes software. Doug Balog, the IBM vice president in charge of overall BladeCenter business and strategy, would only say that "given it's the same processor available and used in game consoles, the prices scale fairly well."

The HS20 -- IBM's Xeon-based, dual-core blade offering -- starts at $1,749. IBM also plans to release a new dual-core Power chip blade, the JS21, which starts at $2,499 and is due out next month. IBM said the new Power blade offers up to three times the performance of its predecessor, the JS20, and has twice the memory capacity. IBM blade servers, whether they are x86- or Power-based, ship with two processors.

From IBM's perspective, virtualization capabilities are as important as performance. IBM has added, for instance, micropartitioning technology to its JS21 blade. This technology, now in use on its Power-based servers, allows users to subdivide each processor core into as many 10 virtual servers.

Sometime around midyear, IBM expects to announce workload management improvements to Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure, which was announced last October. Using EMC Corp. subsidiary VMware's technology, this one blade can support up to 20 clients, according to IBM.

"The virtualized part is the most important" in the company's PC blade server development, said Bill Zeitler, IBM's systems vice president. That's because it "can give you get more financial leverage and operational leverage on each blade."

IBM sees its PC blade development as an integral part of its overall BladeCenter strategy and intends to include workload management functions that will allow users to move computing resources from clients to servers -- something users may want to do when clients are shut down for the evening.

Users have been generally slow to adopt thin-client computing models, for reasons ranging from user resistance to the low cost of PCs. But David S. Robbins, IT director at Paul Davril Inc., a Los Angeles-based fashion supplier, is moving users to thin clients. He said he has sold the change to management by pointing out "intangibles" and "[showing] them that it takes me five hours to build a PC and within five minutes I can plug in a thin client and get a user up and running."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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