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IBM chases Intel with new Power-based Linux servers sold over the Web

James Niccolai | Oct. 9, 2015
The servers are aimed at scale-out and cloud deployments running big data workloads.

IBM's new S822LC Linux Power server
IBM's Power S822LC, part of a line of Linux based servers for cluster and cloud deployments. Credit: IBM

IBM is gunning for a slice of Intel's x86 server chip business with a new family of Power systems that run Linux and will be sold directly to customers over the Web.

The LC family of servers, which went on sale Thursday, is aimed at organizations deploying clustered or cloud environments, particularly for running Hadoop, Spark and other workloads that involve crunching large volumes of data.

IBM already sells Power servers running Linux, but these new boxes differ in a number of ways, and mark the latest effort by IBM to expand its Power platform into new markets, said Stephanie Chiras, director and business line executive for scale-out Power systems.

For a start, the servers make use of industry standard components, including the memory DIMMs, to keep prices lower, and they don't automatically "call home" to IBM if there's a failure, as other Power systems do. They're also sold with a lower-cost warranty, where customers order replacement parts themselves.

In short, IBM is taking some lessons from the x86 market to offer servers that will be more cost-competitive with Intel-based systems from the likes of Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo.

It's a different model from the one IBM has typically pursued with its Power systems, in which products command higher prices in return for higher levels of reliability and support.

The new model is evident in the buying process, too. While customers usually go through IBM's sales team or a channel partner to buy Power systems, IBM will offer some preconfigured options that customers can "click to buy" over the Web with a credit card.

"We want those folks who are used to running x86 to know there's a choice out there," Chiras said.

IBM kicked off a new effort last year to broaden the market for Power systems. It now lets third parties build Power servers, and encourages involvement from partners like Nvidia, Mellanox and Canonical, whose Ubuntu OS is offered as an option for the new servers, along with Red Hat and Suse.

It was a necessary move for IBM, whose own Power systems business has been declining with the Unix market as a whole. "It was time to make some bold moves," Chiras said. IBM is now trying to muscle into Intel's turf by selling these scale-out Linux boxes.

The servers are targeted at enterprises, managed service providers and HPC customers, and IBM hopes they'll eventually buy tens or even hundreds of Power Systems LC servers at a time, though they're likely to start by kicking the tires with one or two systems.

 

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