IBM Launches New IxA Cards to Link to Nocona Servers
August 9, 2004 Timothy Prickett Morgan
After weeks and weeks of announcements concerning its eServer i5 and p5 products lines, IBM took something of a hiatus last week to focus on the LinuxWorld trade show in San Francisco and the launch of the 64-bit Xeon “Nocona” processors from Intel. However, there is an iSeries slant to these announcements, since IBM did launch a new Integrated xSeries Adapter (IxA) card that can be used with the new Intel servers.
For those who are unacquainted with the IxA cards, here’s a brief explanation. For years, IBM has been shipping uniprocessor Integrated xSeries Server (IxS) cards that fit under the skins of the AS/400, iSeries, and, now, the i5 servers. These servers originally ran OS/2, NetWare, and Windows, and allowed IBM to offer hybrid environments that let OS/400 do what it does best–transaction processing against a relational database–and work in conjunction with other print and file server environments. Eventually, IBM killed off everything but Windows support on these servers, but it has just promised that, sometime before the end of the year, it will allow Linux to run on these IxS cards.
The IxS is very useful, particularly as an infrastructure server doing Web, print, file, or e-mail serving, or as an application server, perhaps running the Windows version of the application servers that drive the PeopleSoft EnterpriseOne suite while the database behind it is DB2/400, running on the OS/400 platform. Even though the IxS is running Windows, it gets a partition of an OS/400 server’s disks and is managed by OS/400. This makes the Windows environment more resilient (for very complex reasons), and it allows OS/400 shops to have a single disk array, under the control of OS/400 and accessible to iSeries tape drives, for both their OS/400 and Windows workloads.
While the IxS is nice, the Intel uniprocessor that IBM can cram onto an IxS card is fairly limited in terms of performance. Many customers that wanted to install hybrid applications needed bigger boxes to run their applications. So IBM invented the IxA card, which allows selected external Intel-based xSeries servers to be linked to an OS/400 just like an IxS, but through the High Speed Loop interconnection that is used to link a modern OS/400 server (Model 270 and 8XX iSeries boxes, second-generation iSeries Model 8XX boxes, and the new eServer i5 Model 5XX boxes) to its peripheral towers. IBM initially allowed its two- and four-way xSeries servers to be linked through the IxA to the iSeries, and then eventually allowed the eight-way versions of its “Summit” xSeries 440 machines to link through an IxA. Even though the Summit machines can scale to 16-way and soon 32-way processing, IBM does not allow Windows 2000 or Windows 2003 Datacenter Editions to run on IxA-attached xSeries machines. One High Speed Loop link (which is in reality a modified Fibre Channel link) is not sufficient to drive such a large X86 box. IBM could cluster multiple IxA cards together to allow a big Summit box to attach to an iSeries or i5 server, but IBM really wants the OS/400 server to be the big box at OS/400 shops.
The first generation of IxA cards, the IxA Model 100, supported the xSeries 235 (two-way); the xSeries 250, 255, 350, 360, and 365 (all four-ways); and the xSeries 440 and 445 Summit machines. For those customers who had already acquired machines in 2001, when the IxA was first announced, ahead of the “Mach 1” eServer rebranding, IBM also supported the Netfinity 7100 and 7600 servers, which were four-way Pentium III machines. The IxA Model 100 is supported on OS/400 V5R1 and V5R2, as well as on the new i5/OS V5R3. It is not entirely clear what makes the new IxA Model 200, which was announced last Monday, different from the IxA Model 100, which was announced in April 2001. Both cards link into 64-bit, 66-MHz PCI adapter slots inside the xSeries servers.
One big difference between the old IxA Model 100 and the new Model 200 appears to be the number of xSeries servers that can be linked to each HSL loop. With the IxA Model 100, the Model 270 had a single HSL loop, and it could have two external xSeries servers linked to it; the Model 820 had one HSL loop and supported four xSeries servers; the Model 830 topped out at eight external xSeries servers; and the Model 840 could have a maximum of 16 outboard xSeries servers. The Model 830 could only put one xSeries machine on its first HSL loop, with a maximum of five per loop on the others. The Model 840 could do five xSeries machines per HSL loop as well.
With the IxA Model 200 card, Model 270 machines still support only two servers attached through the IxA, while the number on all 8XX boxes has been boosted significantly. The Model 820 can have eight external servers; the Model 830 can have 16; and the Model 840 servers can have 60. Newer Model 870 and 890 Power4-based servers, as well as the largest i5 Model 570 (the 13-16 core machine), can also have as many as 60 external servers linking back to their disk arrays. The Model 520, by the way, can have up to eight xSeries machines attached to it through the new IxA card, while the Model 570 can have anywhere from eight to 60, depending on the configuration.
The IBM announcement says that the IxA Model 200 allows a broader range of Intel-based servers to be attached to the iSeries and i5 servers, but this is simply not true. They meant to say a higher number. The current line of machines that can attach to this new adapter card is limited to two of the new xSeries machines that use the “Nocona” Xeon DP processors: the xSeries 236 and the xSeries 346.
The Nocona chips are Intel’s first Xeon server processor with the 64-bit memory extensions activated. (The “Prescott” Pentium 4 processor for single CPU machines also supports 64-bit processing, and IBM has just announced xSeries servers that use it, but you can’t attach them to the iSeries or the i5.) The xSeries 346 is the big dog in the xSeries Nocona server line from IBM. It is a 2U server that competes head-to-head with Hewlett-Packard‘s new ProLiant DL380 G4. The xSeries 346 will support up to 16 GB of main memory and has an integrated RAID 1 and RAID 10 controller that can support RAID 5 with the addition of a daughter card. It uses regular 3.5-inch Ultra320 SCSI disks, and up to six of them can be housed in the chassis. This box has four PCI-X slots and dual Gigabit NICs. A base machine with a 2.8 GHz Nocona chip and 512 MB of memory costs $2,339. The xSeries 236 is the high-end tower Nocona machine from IBM, and it has the same basic guts as the xSeries 346 but with space for nine drives and six PCI-X or PCI-Express slots. The base xSeries 236 costs $2,139 with a single 2.8 GHz Nocona and 512 MB of main memory. IBM is only supporting OS/400 V5R2 and i5/OS V5R3 with the IxA Model 200 card, and the xSeries machines have to be running Windows 2000 Server or Advanced Server or Windows 2003 Web, Standard, or Enterprise Edition. Windows NT 4.0 is no longer supported on the IxS or on IxA-attached xSeries machines.
Each server linking into the iSeries or i5 needs to have an IxA card. The IxA Model 200 card costs $2,200. The new card will be available August 31. In conjunction with this announcement, IBM also chopped the price of the IxA Model 100, to $2,200, down 21 percent.
For full coverage of the Nocona server launch, check out the latest editions of The Linux Beacon or The Windows Observer; the former gives a Linux slant on the announcements, while the latter looks at them from a Windows angle.
A reminder: IBM reiterated last week that it intends to offer an IxS co-processor for the eServer i5 line that makes use of the low-powered Pentium M processor from Intel. This IxS will be made to install in the i5 servers themselves and in their I/O towers; it is expected sometime in the second half of 2004, probably in September or October.