SAN MATEO, Calif. Cranking up the heat in the computer server wars, IBM Corp. announced a new benchmark for its Power4-based systems that it claims puts it first in performance and price. The announcement came Monday (June 30) as Hewlett-Packard Co. launched a new line of servers based on a fresh version of the Itanium 2 processor it co-developed with Intel Corp.
The back-to-back press announcements underscore the heated competition between IBM's Power and Intel and HP's Itanium processors in the multi-billion dollar server market. Long term both contenders still face the threat of aggressively multithreaded, multi-core architectures Sun Microsystems Inc. has on its road map.
IBM said its p690 system using 16 Power4+ processors executed 763,898 transactions per minute (tpm) at a cost of $8.31 per tpm based on the TPC-C benchmark of the Transaction Processing Performance Council. The system beat the HP Superdome server using 64 Itanium 2 processors to deliver 707,102 tpmC at a cost of $8.44 per tpmC running Windows Server.
IBM said the performance increase in its latest benchmark came mainly from use of a new 1.7 GHz Power4+ as well as a lot of tuning of the IBM AIX Unix and DB2 database software the benchmark was based on.
"DB2 has not been participating in the TPC wars, but focusing on features instead. But we decided it was time to reenter this," said an IBM software spokesman.
The IBM benchmark announcement came on the same day Intel and HP launched Madison, a 1.5-GHz version of Itanium 2 with 6 Mbytes of level-three cache. IBM claimed it had only finished its benchmark work at 5 a.m. Monday morning.
"These guys will be going head-to-head in a long and interesting struggle," said Kevin Krewell, senior analyst with The Microprocessor Report. "Frequency, cache and a lot of other stuff you dial in all play a part in the performance game, but the more CPU cores per die is very key for the transaction-per-minute goal," he added.
Indeed, server bragging rights increasingly appear to fall to companies who do a better job delivering multi-threaded, multi-core architectures. On this trend line, IBM's Power looks set to stay ahead of Itanium, but could be surpassed by Sun over the next two years.
The Power4 uses a dual-core design, meaning the 16-CPU IBM system sported 32 processor cores compared to 64 single-core Itanium 2 chips in the HP Superdome system.
"We pushed Itanium 2 off the [top of the performance benchmark] list with half the number of processors," said Adalio Sanchez, general manager of IBM's Unix server group.
Intel does not expect to deliver until 2005 a dual-core Itanium and it will not tackle the tricky task of multi-threading its VLIW architecture until later. IBM, however, already has a dual-threaded, dual-core Power5 up and running in its labs and on schedule for a 2004 launch, said Mark Papermaster, who heads up IBM's Power processor development.
Sun, meanwhile, has disclosed it will launch a virtual 32-way version of the Sparc architecture in 2005 with its Niagara chip which will include eight cores running up to four threads each.
"This is all about execution. We are delivering top performance today. When Sun gets there it may not matter anymore," said Sanchez.
Sanchez also brushed aside concerns about IBM's Unix business which is being sued by SCO Group for infringing on its technology. "As we have said our Unix license is perpetual and irrevocable, our momentum in the [Unix] market is growing and we will let this matter be decided by the courts," said Sanchez.