IBM Hardens Its Servers

"Windows 2000 couldn't have come at a better time," said Tom Bradicich, director of architecture and technology for IBM's Netfinity. Bradicich made this claim in response to the Win2K capabilities that are letting IBM harden its servers.

IBM's efforts to harden its servers to run Win2K include improving software quality, adding new hardware features, and improving fault-tolerance capabilities. IBM leverages much of this work from its X-architecture development for earlier OSs (e.g., RS/6000, AS/400) and uses the techniques on the Win2K platform.

IBM continues its push into the Win2K enterprise server space with its Intel-based Netfinity departmental servers. IBM is releasing two new 4-way servers—the Netfinity 7100 ($7000) and Netfinity 7600 ($9940)—and has added an Advanced System Management Processor that monitors the Netfinity systems' health and can remotely control the servers. IBM is also using its Remote Connect technology to contact IBM experts for remote assistance and to dispatch resources. This feature lets IBM offer a 99.99 percent uptime guarantee, which roughly translates to 1 hour of downtime per year.

IBM's X-architecture also gives Netfinity systems a failover node for fault tolerance. This fault tolerance has let the company experiment with different methods to make its systems more reliable. For example, IBM offers software regeneration technology that moves activity to an inactive node, then reboots or refreshes the other nodes, one at a time. Netfinity also offers Active PCI, which lets you incrementally add more networking capability to the system while it's running. A power-gauge feature checks the electricity delivered to the server to predict power requirements. IBM developed this technology as part of its OnForever initiative.

IBM is building reliability from all angles. In IBM servers, you can expect to see many new technologies, including hot-swap memory, extensive scalability, diagnostic features for IBM's device drivers, and Chipkill memory. This memory lets a server recover from memory-chip failure; the feature recovers as much as 8 bits of memory after a memory failure.

The company also plans to provide Storage Area Network (SAN) offerings with its two new Netfinity servers. Such an offering follows the growing trend of enterprise-server vendors differentiating their server products by selling server and storage combinations. IBM's announcement is unique in that the company's new line of SAN devices are full fibre-channel implementations.

In IBM's fibre-channel arsenal, the Fibre Array Storage Technology (FAStT) 500 RAID controller unit is fast, offering 300Mbps throughput. (Typically, controllers are in the 100Mbps range.) The FAStT 500 controller can manage 220 hard disks and as much as 8TB of storage in a set of connected devices. The unit costs $36,750. Also available for $1500 is a new fibre network adapter card, the FAStT Host Adapter, which wraps IP packets inside fibre-channel frames for 300Mbps throughput.

In addition, IBM has added the Netfinity Fibre Channel Storage Manager Partition Enhancement 1.0 to its Netfinity Fibre Channel Storage Manager software product line. This $7400 partitioning software manages the disk space of storage devices that servers, applications, and users share. The partition manager can offer dedicated partitions on a storage device for as many as eight hosts.

Bradicich also mentioned efforts under way in his group to provide a software-failure analysis and predictor capability in Netfinity servers. After analyzing and learning the patterns of counters and indicators before failures, this tool will recognize impending failures and intervene before they occur. IBM is working with Intel, Microsoft, and PC-Doctor to develop the Common Diagnostics Model (CDM).

IBM will unveil a Netfinity SAN initiative at PC Expo 2000. In addition, the company plans to release information soon about its next-generation Summit architecture (to appear in 2001).

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