If you want to play in the x64 server racket, you need high-end boxes that offer lots of enterprise-class features. You need entry machines that offer the best bang for the buck and a low price. And you need midrange machines that split the difference without breaking the bank account.
IBM has always been good at the high-end and done reasonably well with midrange machines, but it has been challenged by Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Fujitsu among small businesses and the small machines they like to buy.
The delivery of the "Lynnfield" Xeon 3400 processors - glorified Core i7 chips in the Nehalem family sporting four cores and tweaked in minor ways for single-socket servers - gives Big Blue and its partner channel another chance to take a run at SMBs with cheap but powerful enough servers to ramp up shipment numbers and perhaps gain some market share.
Today, IBM is launching two System x machines based on the Xeon 3400 processors, one rack box and one tower box.
The System x3250 M3 is a 1U rack server that supports four of the six Xeon 3400 processors: the 2.4 GHz X3430, the 2.53 GHz X3440, the 2.66 GHz X3450, and the 2.8 GHz X3460. The Xeon 3430 does not have HyperThreading, by the way, but all of the other Xeon 3400s do (including the two that IBM is not supporting in this rack server).
IBM is not allowing the server to support the top-end X3470 chip, which runs at 2.93 GHz. That's probably because the chip - at a list price of $589 each in 1,000-unit trays (and costing much more when you buy from a server maker in onesies) - is too expensive for SMB shops, particularly given the modest performance gain compared to the X3460, which lists for $316 from Intel.
IBM is also not supporting the much more interesting L3426 low-voltage Xeon 3400 part in the System x3250 M3 server, which costs $284 and which only runs at 1.86 GHz. This L3426 part is interesting in that it has a 45 watt thermal design point instead of the 95 watt rating of the other Xeon 3400 processors in the Lynnfield lineup.
The interesting thing about the L3426 is that its Turbo Boost feature allows one core to crank up to 3.2 GHz if the other three cores are sitting idle - a much larger span than the Turbo Boost feature on any other Xeon 3400, 3500, or 5500 processor to date. The L3426 might be exactly the processor that IBM needs to sell to customers who want burst mode power, but low power consumption generally.
Anyway, the System x3250 M3 server supports UDIMM or RDIMM DDR3 main memory, and supports 1 GB, 2 GB, and 4 GB UDIMMs and 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB, and 8 GB RDIMMs. The machine has four memory slots, which means memory tops out at 8 GB today with 2 GB UDIMMs, with 4 GB UDIMM support coming in the first quarter of 2010. With RDIMMs, the machine tops out at 16 GB today using 4 GB memory modules, but will be able to use 8 GB RDIMMs in the first quarter and therefore double the main memory. Regardless of the type of memory you choose, the base System x3250 M3 comes with 2 GB of memory (two 1 GB modules) standard.
One set of systems comes with one of the four Xeon 3400 processors and a SATA or SAS disk controller on the motherboard. The machine has room for two 3.5-inch drives or four 2.5-inch drives, and the integrated disk controller on the system board supports striping or mirroring. If you want RAID 0/1 data protection, there is a PCI-Express x4 card dedicated for this. The server has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and for peripherals, it sports two PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slots and two x8 slots running at the older PCI-Express 1.0 speed (one is eaten by the RAID controller). It can also be rigged with optional an PCI-X slot. The System x3250 M3 comes with a 351-watt power supply.
The System x3250 M3 will be available on October 30, but IBM started talking orders for it today. Pricing was not available at press time and the machine can not yet be ordered through Big Blue's online store. IBM is supporting Microsoft Windows Server 2008, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server on this box.
If tower servers are your thing - and they certainly are for lots of small businesses - then IBM wants to sell you the System x3200 M3, which is essentially the same machine in a tower case with some tweaks. This machine has the same memory and processor options, and it sports two PCI slots, two PCI-Express x8 slots, and two PCI-Express x4 slots (again, one is eaten by the base RAID controller).
The tower comes with seven drive bays standard, with four of those being for 3.5-inch disks and an optional eight-drive cage for 2.5-inch drives coming in January 2010. The machine has a 401-watt power supply, and it supports Windows 2008, RHEL, and SLES, just like the rack box. It will be available on October 30 as well, but you can order it today.
Without knowing the pricing, it is hard to know if what IBM has put together is worth buying or whether thus will give it a chance to recover its x64 server biz.
IBM may eventually get around to delivering the Xeon 3400 processors in a blade form factor, but it did not do so today. IBM does already sell the HS12 blade, which is a single socket box that supports older single-, dual-, and quad-core Xeon processors as well as Core 2 Duos.
In addition to the two new servers, IBM also debuted the ServeRAID-BR10iL SAS and SATA disk controller for its System x server lineup. This is the four-port RAID 0/1 controller that plugs into the x8 slot using an x4 connector mentioned above. It also can be used in the System x3400 M2, and is supported by Windows, RHEL 4 and 5, SLES 10 and 11, and VMware's ESX Server 3.5 and 4.0 hypervisors.
Finally, IBM said today that it was ready to preload Microsoft's Windows Small Business Server 2008 Standard Edition and Premium Edition onto its System x and BladeCenter x64-based machines. SBS 2008 Standard Edition comes with a basic Windows Server 2008 setup, plus Exchange Server 2007 Standard Edition, SharePoint Services 3.0, and Update Services 3.0.
SBS Premium Edition puts Standard Edition on one server and then puts SBS and SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition on a second server that is intended to be an application platform instead of an infrastructure platform. IBM will begin shipping Windows SBS 2008 on System x and BladeCenter machines starting October 2. This, again, is aimed specifically at small and medium businesses with relatively modest computing requirements. ®