IBM’s Newest NUMA-Q Server to Handle 64 Intel CPUs

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IBM’s Newest NUMA-Q Server to Handle 64 Intel CPUs
R. Krause - June 19, 2000

Event Summary

May 24, 2000 [Source: IBM] - IBM introduced the world's most powerful Intel-based server, the 64-processor NUMA-Q E410, along with the industry's most affordable technology-leading two-way server, the Netfinity 3500 M20. These products represent the high-end and the low-end of the industry's most scalable Intel-based server line for e-businesses running Windows 2000 and Linux environments.

Powered by Intel's new 700 MHz Pentium III Xeon processors, the NUMA-Q E410 has shattered the industry's foremost data warehousing performance benchmark doubling the result of Hewlett Packard's top-of-the-line V-series server at nearly half the cost. TPC-H results may be viewed by visiting their web site at:

"IBM is enabling customers to build intelligent infrastructures on their own terms with UNIX, Linux or Windows 2000 application environments," said Rod Adkins, general manager, IBM Web Servers. "Our NUMACenter framework allows customers to seamlessly manage IBM's entire line of Intel-based servers with upward integration into higher level management infrastructures."

Key Features of the NUMA-Q E410

High Performance and Scalability: NUMA-Q systems scale from 4 to 64 processors and 64 GB memory in a single system, far exceeding any other Intel-based system on the market. NUMA-Q near linear scalability is enabled by its unique four-processor "quad" building block architecture, which allows customers to add balanced I/O and memory as they add processors.

High Availability: NUMA-Q's "mainframe style" multi-path I/O and switched fabric fiber channel SAN (Storage Area Network) capabilities provide a platform with no single point of subsystem failure. Further enhancing availability is connectivity with IBM Enterprise Storage Server featuring multi-port capability, which maximizes I/O by evenly distributing it over all available interface ports for maximum bandwidth. IBM backs NUMA-Q's outstanding availability with the option of aggressive, customer-specific service level agreements. Working closely with IBM, customers have achieved sustained availability ratings of 99.999%.

Investment Protection: The NUMA-Q architecture allows customers to fully leverage their IT investments while taking advantage of the latest technology. NUMA-Q E410 quads are compatible with all existing NUMA-Q servers which support multiple generations of Intel processors in a single system.

NUMACenter: NUMACenter is a pre-integrated environment combining Netfinity application and web servers running Windows 2000 or Linux and a NUMA-Q database server with a consolidated SAN and systems management including Tivoli software and the Advanced Detection Availability Manager (ADAM). NUMACenter is ideal for rapid deployment and growth of enterprise applications and is widely used by application service providers and e-businesses requiring a highly scalable and flexible compute environment.

NUMA-Q E410 began shipping on May 22 with an entry price of $69,000.

Market Impact

The projected market impact is a tough call on this one. The performance on the TPC-H scale is excellent, and the uptime figure of 99.999% is pretty good (equating to approximately 5 minutes of downtime per year). The uptime is superior to Windows NT-based systems, and the performance is better than HP's Unix offerings (at least, of the ones tested to TPC-H). In a more mainstream package, these figures would help IBM/Sequent (IBM purchased Sequent for their NUMA-Q offerings/architecture) gain sales volume and market share. One caveat: the "five 9s" uptime comment in the press release mentions customers "working closely with IBM" to achieve these figures. This implies that the "average Joe" will not necessarily achieve those results. IBM should provide figures from customers who haven't had their hands held so much.

An area of concern for us is IBM's entire NUMA-Q strategy. IBM appears to be tentative regarding where in the organization the NUMA-Q architecture and systems should reside. Presently they are under the aegis of the Web Server group, run by GM Rodney Adkins out of Austin. However, IBM's announcement clearly played up that they consider NUMA-Q to be an extension of the Intel-based Netfinity server line, run by GM John Callies. In many companies, where a product "resides" is often a case of: in whom the "Executive Committee" prefers to place their trust. We believe that both Mr. Adkins and Mr. Callies are doing excellent jobs leading their respective groups, so the management-quality issue is not a factor. This leaves it to the more prosaic criterion of architectural "fit". Although we can see how the high-end nature of the E410 might lean it toward the Web Server side, we believe that the Intel nature ultimately tips it toward the Netfinity side - especially as Intel processors and servers improve performance and robustness.

User Recommendations

As with many high-end machines, this product is not for small shops. Although the base price for the server starts at $69,000, it will cost significantly more than that - upwards of $250K - to build a useful system. ("Useful" here means able to utilize the power of the computer, as opposed to buying an underpowered unit for the name.)

The other area of concern is the OS: the performance figures quoted were reached using the "DYNIX/ptx" operating system, the OS developed by Sequent. That would be great, except that IBM has made it clear that DYNIX/ptx will go away within five years - we believe it will be closer to two years - to be replaced by Linux/Monterey. Because of this, we would like to see performance figures for a non-dead-end OS. Until IBM provides more useful figures, we cannot recommend this system for non-legacy applications. However, once the non-dying OS performance figures are available, there will be no strong reason for customers not to consider this system. As with all systems, customers should review their needs and compare them to the benefits such a system will provide.

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