IBM's blades: Opteron is in da house

Summary:According to a story by's Stephen Shankland, buyers of IBM's Bladecenters now have the option of selecting single or dual core Opterons as the processor on-board the server blades that go into a Bladecenter enclosure.

According to a story by's Stephen Shankland, buyers of IBM's Bladecenters now have the option of selecting single or dual core Opterons as the processor on-board the server blades that go into a Bladecenter enclosure.  Blades are a system form factor that are claimed to pack significantly more servers per square foot into a server room than other more traditional form factors such as towers or "1Us" -- the pizza box-shaped server that slides into a telecommunications rack.  Blade architectures also promise to reduce the headaches that are associated with other server form factors through the sharing of resources (eg: storage fabrics), networking wiring, and power supplies. Last year, in response to Dell's then pending re-entry into the blade market, I wrote about how blades may not offer all the benefits claimed by their vendors.

IBM originally announced that AMD's processors would be available for its blades during AMD's dual core launch this past April.  Shankland's story covers a lot of ground and hashes out some of AMD's desktop plans for the dual core Athlon 64 (the desktop class AMD64-based chips).  Obviously, there's more to total cost of ownership and overall benefit than just cost of acquisition when selecting processors.  For example, the Opterons have scored some recent wins over Intel's offerings on the performance front.  But, since Shankland provided IBM's pricing on the Opterons, I thought it would be interesting to see how IBM's Intel-based blades  compared.

According to Shankland's story, "An entry-level LS20 costs $2,259 for a model with a single 2GHz Opteron 248 and 1GB of memory, IBM said. With AMD's 2GHz dual-core Opteron 270, the price rises to $3,649. The systems can accommodate two Opterons." I contacted IBM for comparable pricing on Intel-based gear and, according to company spokesperson Tim Willeford, the best IBM can do on a comparable entry level Intel-based blade is $1,839 (the 3Ghz 1GB-configured  HS20 884311U).   For the nearly the same price ($2,249) as the $2,259 configuration of the Opteron-based LS20,  IBM offers the HS20 with 1GB of memory and an Intel 3.4 Ghz processor (the HS20 884331U).  In other words, IBM's entry level Opteron offerings aren't necessarily less expensive than Intel's.  However, as I said earlier, other criteria may reign supreme (over cost) in your deliberations.  Willeford, for example, told me via e-mail that Opteron is ideal for high-performance computing and software that includes a lot of high floating point operations such as applications for oil and gas exploration, the pharmaceutical industry, and research.

According to Willeford, most of IBM's lineup of Intel-based blades was refreshed last year to include Intel's AMD64-compatible 32/64-bit hybrid Xeons (codenamed Nacona).  When viewing IBM's online page for Bladecenter pricing, the 8843 models are all Nacona-based, while the 8832 models are non-hybrids based on Intel's older 32-bit-only Prestonia technology (which means they're not comparable to the Opterons).  While Intel is shipping dual-core Pentiums, it has yet to ship any dual-core Xeons to go up against AMD's Opteron.  The company's first dual-core Xeon offering -- codenamed Paxville -- isn't expected to ship until 2006. Intel has 15 dual-core projects covering destkops and servers in the works. According to Willeford, once Intel begins to ship its dual-core Xeons, IBM's Bladecenter lineup will be updated to include them.

Topics: Hardware


David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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