I.B.M. has announced new servers that behave more like mainframes and are priced as low as $1500. The servers will be able to run as many as 10 operating systems on a single machine. One processor can split up the workload — packing the capability of several machines into one — by building several virtual machines that run on the underlying hardware.
The first of the server computers, which uses I.B.M.’s virtualization engine technology, will begin shipping within days, and the prices of some models will range up to $1 million. The machines, I.B.M. said, are the result of a three-year research and development effort.
“Much of the technology is harvested from our mainframe business,” said William Zeitler, senior vice president of I.B.M.’s computer systems group, in an interview with The New York Times.
I.B.M. asserts that its new technology promises to simplify the management of corporate data centers and improve the utilization rates of the server computers that run those data centers. Mainframes, analysts said, typically run at 80 percent of capacity on average, compared with 10 to 30 percent for servers running the Unix operating system, Windows or GNU Linux.
I.B.M. will offer some of its new technology on its Intel-based servers, but analysts told the Times that the company’s real advantage should come in servers using I.B.M.’s Power family of microprocessors. In the Power machines, the virtualization software is built right into the chip, as microcode, instead of as a separate layer of software. Today, I.B.M. uses the Power chips in servers that run Unix and in its midrange I-series machines, the former AS-400 minicomputers.
Virtualization technology opens the door to eliminating the tight link between a specific microprocessor and a certain operating system. Microsoft’s Windows, for example, runs on Intel and Intel-compatible microprocessors.
Strategically, the I.B.M. approach is quite different from technology leaders, such as Intel and Microsoft, that specialize in either hardware or software. “In the future, advantage is not going to be so much in the chip or the operating system, but in the management and control layer of technology,” Zeitler said.