IBM Flexes X6 and Xeon Muscle

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. May 21, 2104

IBM’s announcement of three new compute node solutions for its Flex Systems portfolio finds the company leveraging two well-established, well-respected technologies. The first is Intel’s Xeon E7v2 CPUs, the latest version of the processor family that dominates modern data center systems and sales. The second is IBM’s X6, the sixth generation of the X-Architecture technology that is designed to extend and maximize the value of industry standard x86-based systems.

As such, we believe these new Flex System compute nodes will deliver notable value to IBM individually, but they should also offer significant benefits beyond the company that are worth further consideration.

If you didn’t see IBM’s announcement, the new Flex System offerings include:

  • x280 X6 – Ideal for workloads such as large virtual machines requiring more memory per VM. Scales to 2 sockets and supports a maximum of 3TB memory
  • x480 X6 – Ideal for workloads such as large virtual machines, analytics and databases requiring more cores and more memory per system/VM. Scales to 4 sockets and supports a maximum of 6TB memory
  • x880 X6 – Ideal for workloads such as advanced analytics and databases that demand the highest levels of performance, scales to 8 sockets and supports a maximum of 12TB memory. The x880 X6 is also the industry’s first 8-socket Intel Xeon-based blade system.

Planned availability of IBM’s new Flex System X6 compute nodes is June 13, 2014, starting at $15,700 (US) or $388 (US) per month for 36 months.

Final Analysis

Some would say that IBM’s new Flex System solutions don’t offer much of anything new. After all, the compute nodes utilize technologies announced early this year (IBM’s X6 in mid-January, and Intel’s Xeon E7v2 a month later), which means they have simply been upgraded with the respective vendors’ latest/greatest technologies. But such a blasé attitude ignores the essential premise of the Flex System portfolio and its impact on enterprise customers.

IBM intends the Flex System solutions to represent a game-changing step forward from traditional high-density blade servers. Though those products still have their place for some traditional applications and use cases, businesses from enterprises to service providers are rapidly moving toward converged systems designed to simplify management, improve performance and flexibility and enable the implementation of new workloads. Those workloads include analytics, Big Data and large-scale virtualization for cloud and other dynamic environments, all of which demand significantly improved system resiliency, agility and serviceability (RAS).

This is where combining Intel’s Xeon E7v2 and IBM’s X6 technologies delivers notable, even profound benefits. According to Intel, Xeon E7v2 is designed for big data, analytics and business-critical workloads. How does it achieve that? By offering triple the memory capacity, twice the average performance and up to four times the I/O bandwidth of previous generation Xeon CPUs.

As it has for decades of X-Architecture evolution, IBM’s X6 keys off Intel development to further expand benefits for company customers. In the case of the new Flex System compute nodes, those include the ability to offer three times as much memory as previous solutions, deliver up to twice as much performance and support up to 80% more virtual machines while delivering what IBM describes as the highest levels of RAS available in any x86-based system.

These are all critical points for the enterprise and service provider customers IBM is targeting with its Flex System and new compute node solutions. That speaks to the financial benefits that the company is likely to gain with these offerings in the near term. But it also underlines the long term value that IBM’s Flex System should eventually provide to Lenovo, which will receive them as part of its planned acquisition of IBM’s System x assets and organization.

That confluence is certainly one part of this story, but the larger point to consider is how, for some technologies and some vendors, innovation does not occur piecemeal but as part of a steady continuum. That has certainly been the case for the X-Architecture which, due to IBM’s ongoing efforts, allowed the company to capture and hold a leadership position in higher-end x86 solutions.

Lenovo is poised to gain those same benefits when the System x deal is finalized. But if the company’s efforts and experience with IBM’s PC division (which it purchased in 2004) are any guide, what will eventually become Lenovo’s server customers should look forward to enjoying years or decades of continuing System x and X-Architecture innovation.

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