Eye On The Enterprise

Key West, Fla.--IBM is making good on its master plan of infusing its Netfinity server with high-end features more typical of IBM's S/390, RS/6000 and AS/400 lines.

Key West, Fla.--IBM is making good on its master plan of infusing its Netfinity server with high-end features more typical of IBM's S/390, RS/6000 and AS/400 lines.

That's what IBM is telling a group of the company's top Netfinity technicians who met this week aboard the Disney Magic cruise ship. IBM product managers and technologists described Netfinity's present course and future directions at the company's annual TechConnect Impact event. TechConnect is IBM's reseller training and certification arm for Netfinity.

A little more than a year ago, IBM embarked on its X-architecture initiative to embed top-notch reliability, performance and scalability features into Netfinity's mass-market Intel-based platform.

In particular, IBM is pushing I/O technology, which has lagged in comparison with chip speeds. Tom Bradicich, IBM's director of server architecture and technology, called I/O "the weakest link in the chain" of server technology. Adds Sean Whalen, a Netfinity consultant with IBM, "If you don't feed the processors with data, they are just waiting very, very fast."

Netfinity now offers IBM's ActivePCI, an enhancement to base-PCI technology that provides the ability to replace failed PCI adapters, or add additional adapters, without shutting down the system. In addition, IBM, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard have developed the next-generation PCI-X bus specification, which provides data-transfer rates of up to 1G per second at 133MHz. In comparison, the base-PCI spec (circa 1996) called for 132M per second at 33MHz. Bradicich says PCI-X has been turned over to the PCI Special Interest Group for governance as an industry standard and could show up in products in the first half of 2000.

However, IBM already is planning to replace the entire shared-bus concept with a switch fabric architecture, in which I/O devices are linked to processors and memory via a central switch. An industry group cochaired by IBM and Intel is developing the so-called System I/O specification, the initial version of which is expected to be in place by December. Products using the System I/O specification will appear in the second half of 2001, according to Bradicich. The effort will leverage IBM's S/390 I/O channel structure.

Netfinity also will see enterprise-inspired technology in operating systems.

IBM plans to adopt Monterey, a version of Unix that Intel and The Santa Cruz Operation are developing as an enterprise Unix for Intel's Merced chip. IBM and Intel officials say Netfinity machines running Monterey offer a migration path for AIX users.

And in core logic, IBM has started to employ Chipkill memory protection in certain Netfinity models. Chipkill memory, which IBM says is 100 times more reliable that ECC memory, already is a standard feature on models of the Netfinity 7000 M10.

Today, Chipkill memory resides on DIMMs, but IBM plans to make the technology cheaper by incorporating it on memory cards, and eventually, memory controllers, according Whalen. He says Chipkill will show up on memory cards in about six months.

Other upcoming Netfinity upgrades include predictive failure analysis for operating systems and middleware. That feature will become available starting in the first half of 2000. In the near term, IBM later this month will debut Netfinity Director, which leverages Tivoli's IT Director midmarket systems-management technology. Netfinity Director will succeed Netfinity Manager.

Netfinity Upgrades

PCI-X1G per second busFirst half of 2000
Systems I/OSwitch fabric I/OSecond half of 2001
MontereyUnix for MercedNA
Chipkill MemoryAdvanced ECCAvailable on DIMM, Available on memory cards first half of 2000