IBM drops Intel high-end server

Move forces users to seek other platforms

Users of an IBM server line the company acquired through its purchase of Sequent Computer Systems Inc. are being forced to migrate to other systems as a result of IBM's decision to ditch the technology.

IBM announced the Intel-based 64-processor xSeries 430 server featuring Sequent's Non-Uniform Memory Architecture in March 2001. In March of this year, it posted a notice of plans to withdraw the product, along with Sequent's associated Dynix/ptx Unix operating system.

Some Sequent users are clearly agitated.

"IBM's actions have left us with a very bad taste in our mouths for anything IBM," said Michael Wojtowicj, manager of systems engineering at Entertainment Partners, a Burbank, Calif.-based company that provides production management services in the entertainment industry.

The company has been a Sequent customer since 1989 and uses several NUMA systems and Dynix/ptx to run all of its core applications. Now it's being forced to rewrite all of its applications in Java and C to enable a migration to a new platform.

"I think IBM's objective was to first trap customers on this platform and then force them to move to [IBM's] Unix boxes," Wojtowicj said.

The move has been expected for some time because of both the lack of customer response to the NUMA box and the lack of software and database support around Dynix/ptx, said Michael Prince, vice president and CIO at Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp. in Burlington, N.J.

Nonetheless, "it's disappointing that this happened," said Prince. He added that his company has a "significant investment" in Sequent's NUMA systems, which it uses as database and application servers.

Pulling the Plug

With IBM pulling the plug, Burlington Coat Factory is considering moving everything to a cluster of smaller Unix or Linux servers. That task is complicated by the company's planned upgrade to Oracle9, Prince said. Moving off the NUMA boxes, adds a significant amount of extra work, Prince said.

Starting Dec. 31, IBM will stop selling both the server and the operating system, though it will continue to support Dynix/ptx through 2006 and the hardware through 2007.

Sequent's NUMA technology allowed the company to assemble very large Intel boxes using four-processor building blocks.

Although Sequent never managed to find a large market for its products, it did snag several big-name customers, such as The Boeing Corp. and Carlson Hospitality Worldwide.

When IBM acquired Sequent for $810 million in 1999, the company said it would use NUMA to deliver very large Intel boxes. The xSeries 430 server, which started at $160,000 for an eight-way system, was expected to be the first in a line of even larger Intel boxes.

IBM is now urging users to move their applications to its 32-way p690 Unix/RISC servers or to smaller four- or eight-way Intel boxes.

An IBM spokesman last week characterized the move as a routine product withdrawal. Though it formally announced the withdrawal in March, IBM has been contacting customers about the move since last year, he said.

"We do these things all the time. We replace technologies with new technologies. . . . We view this as a product evolution," the spokesman said. "We are giving our customers plenty of time to execute a migration strategy. And we'll continue to support their migration [to other technologies]."

face="Arial,Helvetica,Geneva,Swiss,SunSans-Regular" size="-1">Lost Features

IBM will stop selling the xSeries 430 at the end of this year. Its high-end features include the following:

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Based on Non-Uniform Memory Architecture

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Support for up to 64 Intel Pentium III Xeon processors

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Up to 64GB of memory

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Up to 582TB of common storage

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Partitioned I/O

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Clustering to 16 nodes

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