The x440 uses fault-tolerant memory, self-healing software and virtual machine technology to provide the kind of reliability and scalability normally associated with mainframes.
The x440 includes IBM's 'eLiza' technologies, long discussed but only now delivered. These include Active Memory, which uses redundant memory modules to prevent a server crashing through memory failure. While error checking and correcting (ECC) memory used in servers can correct for errors in a few bits of a chip, IBM's scheme allows an entire DIMM to fail without crashing the server.
A single x440 unit has up to eight Intel Xeon MP processors and 32GB RAM. It is possible to partition an x440 system into up to four hardware virtual machines, according to IBM, and up to 64 software virtual machines, the latter using technology from VMWare. By running different applications in separate virtual machines (VMs), the level of resources used by each can be carefully controlled, and a catastrophic failure in one VM should not affect any of the others.
IBM is also hoping to tempt users with the promise of buying a small system and increasing capacity to meet demand. In what IBM has dubbed "pay-as-you-grow", the x440 uses high-speed interconnects that allow owners to expand a server system beyond the capabilities of a single box. Two x440 units can be connected using a 3.2gbps link to form a single server system. Previous multiprocessor Intel servers had to be contained within a single unit, making the base cost of such a system high. The x440 is expected to sell for between $15,000 and $60,000 for the server itself, although costs for fully configured systems could be between $30,000 and $250,000.
IBM is quick to draw comparisons with its competitors, pointing out that Dell can only supply eight-way machines, while Unisys' 16-way machine takes up an entire rack -- the x440 fits 16 processors into 8U space. Partners such as ERP vendor SAP and data mining specialists SAS were rolled out at the launch to say how well the x440 would run their applications. The x440 can run either Windows 2000 Datacenter server or Linux, although IBM stated that Linux didn't scale beyond eight processors at present.
None of the technologies used in the x440 are new, but this is the first time they have all been integrated into an Intel-based server capable of running standard operating systems and applications. IBM has pulled in expertise from its mainframe and UNIX server divisions, and used technologies it acquired when it bought Sequent three years ago.