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IBM AIX 6, Power6 blade due out this month

For Unix-oriented shops, Big Blue has dangled an appealing carrot: new blade servers based on the Power6 processor running the latest and greatest AIX 6 operating system.

IBM Corp. announced the first blade server based on its Power6 processor today, and the imminent availability of its AIX 6 Unix operating system.

For more on Power6 and AIX:
IBM AIX 6 virtualization catches up to Sun Solaris, HP-UX

IBM Power6 to hit shelves next month in System p server

The JS22 Express blade has two dual-core Power6 processors running at 4 GHz and supporting up to 32 GB of RAM. Pricing starts at $6,129, according to the IBM Power blade site. It fits into a BladeCenter H or BladeCenter HT chassis, which hold 14 and 12 blades in 9-U or 12-U configurations, respectively.

There may be a time when [IBM]support[s] the JS22 in an E chassis, but it really becomes a dollar-and-cents issue.
Charles King,
analystPund-IT Inc.

For the immediate future, the JS22 blade can run AIX 5.3, AIX 6, Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Novell Inc.'s SUSE. Scott Handy, IBM's VP of marketing and strategy for Power Systems, said i5/OS will be available on the blade in the first half of next year.

Meanwhile, AIX 6 becomes generally available Friday, Nov. 9, ending a four-month beta period during which 700 customers downloaded the operating system, Handy said.

Among several new features of AIX, the one IBM has touted the most is virtualization.

AIX 6's new virtualization feature is called Workload Partitions (WPARs), also known as Live Application Mobility. With WPARs, applications gain logical security and administrative isolation from one another while still running on the same instance of AIX. In this manner, IT managers can keep the number of AIX operating system instances to a minimum while still allowing them to consolidate application workloads onto a single server.

AIX 6 WPARs goes hand in hand with a new feature of the Power6 processor called Live Partition Mobility. This feature enables users to move an entire hardware partition -- operating system and applications -- from one physical machine to another without incurring downtime.

Because Live Partition Mobility is a feature of Power6, it can work with operating systems other than AIX, such as Linux. Handy said the company is exploring the idea of porting it to i5/OS.

IBM doesn't claim that being able to move workloads around dynamically is unique, said Charles King, an analyst at Hayward, Calif.-based research firm Pund-IT Inc. "You can use a combination of VMware, VMotion and some hardware platforms to achieve much the same thing." But it may be unique for non-x86 platforms. "I don't think any other RISC or Unix vendor has that at this point."

Other features of AIX 6 include role-based access controls and encryption that protects data managed at the file-system level.

IBM BladeCenter vs. HP BladeSystem
IBM's main competitor for blade servers is Hewlett-Packard Co., which holds about 47% of the blade market share, compared with IBM's 32%, according to recent numbers from Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC. Like IBM, a single HP chassis can also support blades with both x86 and RISC/EPIC processors.

But for now, IBM appears to have focused on a more upscale market for its Power6 blades, as they only run within IBM's higher-end BladeCenter H and HT chasses, and not on IBM BladeCenter E, a cheaper chassis with fewer networking capabilities. But compared with HP's BladeSystem chassis, the BladeCenter H chassis has a density advantage, with support for up to 14 Power6 blades in a 9-U envelope, compared with only eight HP Itanium-based Integrity blades in a 10-U space.

The combination of performance and density has made IBM's Power blade servers popular in the high-performance computing space, said King, although it's possible JS22's appeal could spread to retail and finance sectors.

"I think right now [IBM will] probably stick with the current setup," King said. "There may be a time when they support the JS22 in an E chassis, but it really becomes a dollar-and-cents issue -- whether or not they feel that there's enough commercial interest out there."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Server Specs blog.

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