IBM unveils X3 architecture for Intel server line

Big Blue unveiled Tuesday the specifics of its new X3 architecture and the Hurricane chip, hoping to boost its momentum in the Intel-based server market.

IBM unveiled Tuesday the development of its X3 architecture, the third generation of its xSeries server line. The X3 uses mainframe-inspired technology and a new Hurricane Node Controller chip, the end result of a three-year, $100 million investment. Big Blue is betting that these efforts will overtake Dell and Hewlett-Packard for the lead in the Intel-based server market.

If IBM can put something out there to raise the bar and change the landscape, then of course HP and Dell are going to have to respond.
Jim Balderston
Senior industry analystSageza Group

According to Sageza Group senior industry analyst Jim Balderston, IBM's emphasis on its Intel server line is a reflection of the company's overall desire to expand what it can offer small and midsize business clients for their data center needs.

"To have a strategy in the xSeries market is huge," Balderston said. "You can't force companies to give up something they're comfortable with … IBM is responding to the realities of the marketplace, and for that you have to give them credit."

With the launch of X3, IBM will be the only server vendor in the marketplace to incorporate its own chip set into its Intel-based servers. The Hurricane chip set replaces the Twister and Cyclone chips. The Hurricane features an embedded D-RAM, and will provide the x336 with latency reduction that IBM said will improve response times for customers.

"The key feature of the Hurricane is that, basically, we've brought everything closer together and faster," said Jay Bretzmann, IBM's vice president of eServer products. "X3 is the third wave of technology we've brought to the marketplace. Here we bring the chip set innovation to the rest of the things we bring to the table."

The X3 design will play a major role in IBM's new eServer xSeries 366, its first in a series of dual-core capable Intel-based server offerings, by supporting both 32- and 64-bit applications on the same platform. According to IBM, the X3 will provide up to 40% higher performance than the previous generation of Xeon-based systems and is optimized for its Virtualization Engine server consolidation technology. Big Blue also incorporated mainframe-inspired technology, such as memory control, supercomputing, improved data management and DRAM, into the X3.

"If IBM can put something out there to raise the bar and change the landscape, then of course HP and Dell are going to have to respond," Balderston said.

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After showing stronger growth than Dell in that market for 10 consecutive quarters, Big Blue finally passed Dell for second place in Intel-based server market earnings in Q4 of 2004. IBM has been the fastest-growing Intel server vendor in the world since the release of its Summit chip set in 2001, as its market share has grown from 14% to 20% in that time.

Given the large number of users that still run Windows on Intel servers, Balderston said the Intel-based server market is alive and well. IBM, he said, will be subject to the inevitable countermeasures from its main two competitors should its xSeries continues to show revenue growth.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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