IBM has revealed details of new processors for its Power Systems line of Unix servers, and has launched a systems-management application to help customers manage virtualised servers.
IBM's Power7 processors, announced on Tuesday, will ship in mid-2010 and will offer a threefold improvement in performance per kilowatt, according to Stephen Atkins, IBM's product manager for Power Systems, UK and Ireland.
"The big thing is the energy efficiency, but this set of processors will also help you run up to 1,000 virtual machines on a single system, with increased virtualisation and consolidation," Atkins said.
Customers who purchase a Power6-based 570 or 595 Power Systems server today will be able to upgrade as soon as the Power7 becomes available.
Analysts expressed surprise that IBM announced the Power7 processor so early, given that the chips are not expected to ship until well in 2010.
"This seems like an extremely defensive move from IBM, and it shows that x86 and Nehalem are making it increasingly difficult for the Unix Risc vendors to differentiate themselves," said Phil Dawson, a vice-president of research with Gartner Group. "We know that Linux and x86 are equal to Unix Risc, and IBM knows it needs to do a lot more to compete with the likes of HP and Oracle, given what [the latter] might do with Sun over the next couple of quarters."
Also on Tuesday, IBM introduced a new systems-management application, VMControl, which will form part of the Systems Director family.
The new software is intended to help organisations to monitor and manage virtual resources, create virtual servers and manage workloads across multiple platforms. VMControl will support Power Systems, Linux zSeries and Intel-based servers at launch, but over time IBM plans to support more platforms and environments, including System i platforms and BladeCenter, Atkins said.
The company has also announced a new TCO Centre of Excellence, to help customers consolidate and improve the efficiency of server farms.
It makes perfect sense for IBM to announce services and software along with the Power 7, because the industry is seeing an increasing shift in the control of accounts away from system vendors to software vendors, Dawson said.
"IBM absolutely has to start packaging solutions, services and software around its hardware to hook into those accounts, and to differentiate itself. The battle is no longer being fought on price/performance, people don't care," he said.
The core functionality of VMControl will be free of charge, providing Power Systems server customers with the ability to monitor and manage virtualised servers.
However, the Standard Edition of the software, which is not free, will enable organisations to capture 'running images' that can be used as a template to quickly roll out new virtual servers. Pricing will be $100 (£60) for one to four cores, $600 for five to eight cores and $1,300 for nine or more cores.
The launch of VM Control makes sense for IBM, particularly if the company absorbs System Director into Tivoli, added Clive Longbottom, a service director at analyst firm Quocirca.
"People don't want too many ways of managing an environment, and given that certain parts of Systems Director are already visible within Tivoli, it would make sense to make this all part of Tivoli," said Longbottom. However, the product would compete with other tools for managing heterogeneous virtualised environments, such as the latest application from Platform Computing, he added.