x86 Servers Brace for a Hurricane

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Conclusion

IBM is unique amongst all OEMs; it is the last vertically integrated computer manufacturer, and the last active mainframe vendor. To leverage this rich technical heritage, IBM has invested $100 million to develop the X3, the next generation chipset for xSeries servers. Like the EXA2 chipset before it, the X3 brings superior performance and RAS to x86 servers; the X3 also scales up to 32 sockets (64P when dual core Xeon MPs debut). The results of IBM’s engineering are impressive; in TPC-C, the 4P x366 scores 150K and 141K TpmC for Cranford Xeon MPs, which is 20K ahead of the closest 4P Opteron result, and 30K ahead of the nearest Xeon result (although that system uses older 3GHz Xeon MPs). Dr. Bradicich indicated that an 8P X3 system will likely score around 220K TpmC; roughly the same as the prior generation 16P system. It is most likely that the ‘sweet spot’ of the X3 will be the 16P configuration, although the larger sizes have yet to be announced.

Historically, IBM has migrated technologies first developed on mainframes down to their UNIX servers, and eventually to their x86 servers. Despite price competition from Dell and others, a growing number of customers have opted for the high performance and RAS features that IBM’s xSeries servers bring with them (not to mention the excellent support). It is quite likely that this trend will continue for some time, although in the future xSeries servers will actually have a credible rival. Newisys’ HORUS chipset for the Opteron should be technically competitive with the X3, although no benchmark scores have been announced, nor does HORUS have the backing of a Tier 1 OEM (yet).

In summary, the IBM X3 architecture is a solid platform for the next generation xSeries servers. It is an evolution of its predecessor, sporting many visible improvements to latency, bandwidth and scalability, and also subtly improving the already notable RAS. The commercial success of the X3 is nearly guaranteed in the short term, and with a successor on the horizon in 18-24 months, it should be more than sufficient to carry the xSeries standard for IBM.


Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all of individuals, who supported this article including:

  • Dr. Tom Bradicich, John Borkenhagen, Jay Bretzmann, & Tim Willeford of IBM
  • Dr. John McCalpin
  • David Dickstein & George Alfs of Intel
  • Linus Torvalds
  • Lynn Wheeler


References

[1] Meet the Experts: John McCalpin, http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/library/pa-expert1.html
[2] IDF Spring 2005
[3] www.tpc.org
[4] Information Week. http://informationweek.serverpipeline.com/60403303
[5] Scalable Intel MP Serves – The Next Generation, IDF presentation by Dr. Bradicich.

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