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Volume 1, Number 36 -- October 7, 2004

IBM Drops eServer Power5 Clock Speed, Prices to Chase Sun

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

IBM announced that it will move its slower 1.5 GHz Power5 processors into its eServer p5 520 and 550 servers in an attempt to make the "Squadron" servers more appealing to customers using rival Sun Microsystems's Sparc/Solaris boxes and even its new Opteron/Solaris Sun Fire V20z and V40z machines. The new machines are so-called "Express" models, which, in the new IBM lingo, means they are aimed at small and midsized businesses.

This "Express" moniker is not to be confused with the Express name that the pSeries server division used last year to denote a preconfigured pSeries machine that could run either AIX, IBM's Unix variant, or Linux, the open source Unix-alike contender to the thrown of Unix. Now, says Karl Freund, vice president of product marketing at IBM's pSeries unit, such discounted boxes are called "ValuePaks" and Express means low-end and midrange products, typically with ease-of-use features and lower sticker prices than the regular variants of such designated hardware and software.

The p5 520 Express is a two way server and the p5 550 is a four-way server, just like the regular p5 520s and 550s that were announced in mid July. And they are clearly aimed right at the Sun Fire Opteron boxes and similarly powered 64-bit Itanium iron in terms of performance and bang for the buck, but Opteron machines will still win the lower sticker price battle. The base p5 520 Express machine has a single 1.5GHz core activated (the Power5 chip is a dual core chip), 512 MB of main memory, a 36 GB Ultra320 SCSI disk (with room for three more), a dual-port SCSI controller, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports. This base machine costs $3,993. An AIX license costs $395 per core, and Linux costs whatever Red Hat or Novell Inc charge (although you can buy it through IBM and save quite a bit of dough). A base p5 520 (not an Express machine) costs $12,190 with 1 GB of main memory, no disks, and a single 1.65 GHz core activated. This is obviously a big drop in price for the raw processor. Freund says that IBM's yields are much higher on the 1.5 GHz parts, so the company is able to charge a lot less for them. This begs the question as to why IBM didn't announce the Express machines from the getgo, but these slower cores were being used in the eServer i5 variant of the Squadron boxes, which are designed mainly to support OS/400 but which also support AIX and Linux inside logical partitions.

The base p5 550 Express box comes with a single processor card with one 1.5 GHz core activated; customers can add another processor card and push it to four 1.5 GHz cores acting in concert through the magic (okay, engineering) of symmetric multiprocessing. This base machine has the same memory and disk features, and it costs $7,050. A regular p5 550 comes with two 1.65 GHz cores activated, 2 GB of main memory, and no disk, and it costs $22,100.

Both of these machines only come with basic, single-core dynamic logical partitioning, but customers who want the micropartitioning capabilities that were announced with the Virtualization Engine hypervisor have to pay extra for this, as do other AIX customers and Linux shops buying the Linux-only OpenPower variants of the same basic Squadron iron.

The p5 520 Express is available immediately, while the availability of the p5 550 Express was uncertain as we went to press. The ValuePak variants of these p5 Express configurations will be available on October 29. Exactly what will be in these heavier configurations is unknown, but it will probably feature a lot more stuff with a modest discount.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Managing Editor: Shannon Pastore
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
Contact the Editors: To contact anyone on the IT Jungle Team
Go to our contacts page and send us a message.


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