IBM Says New Fifth Generation eX Systems Offer "Across The Board" Opportunities For Resellers

Vendor points to server upgrade cycle, margins, value proposition, rapid ROI.

An IBM Corp. official said that the vendor’s new line of Enterprise x architecture (eX) servers, featuring a technical innovation that the vendor terms a “de-coupling of memory from its traditional, tightly bound place alongside the server’s processor,” will open up margin-rich opportunities for channel partners and may offer an inducement to uneasy former Sun Microsystems Inc. resellers recently folded into Oracle Corp.’s channel program.

At the recent CeBIT trade show in Germany, IBM took the wraps off the latest entry in its eX family of machines, which the vendor has named eX5 and distinguished from its predecessors by a re-engineering effort that allows memory to scale up to six times that of its existing eX4 servers.

IBM has positioned the eX5 servers as a necessary modernization of industry standard servers, specifically geared for system virtualization and consolidation, business critical applications and memory-intensive workloads.

The vendor contends that the venerable x86 platform has reached its limits and that its eX5 systems will reel in costs and improve efficiency.

Roland Hagan, IBM vice president, systems and servers, said that the vendor will aim the eX5 series at mid-market customers, making it a “strategic play” for channel partners.

“All System x channel partners will be authorized and enabled to sell the new eX5 product line,” Hagan said.

IBM will provide “standard total-cost-of-ownership tools” to channel partners to help them articulate to their customers that the systems present a “compelling reason to start spending again,” he said.

“We will see these [eX5] servers move fast among channel partners that have built a value-add around virtualization, consolidation and business critical applications,” Hagan said. “Their clients will want to move to the next level and will need the expanded memory capability of the eX line.”

Hagan said that IBM has been engaged in partner disclosures and enablement training for months to prepare resellers.

He declined to estimate an expected profit margin for channel partners selling the eX5 server line.

Officially unwrapped later this month

“The products will formally announce, price and ship starting on March 30,” Hagan said. “The transition will start in Q2, be in full swing in Q3 and, by end of year, most clients will be buying the new systems.”

Specifically, at the end of this month, IBM will officially roll out three scalable lines, namely, a four-processor system called the System x3850 X5, its first eX solution for the BladeCenter called the BladeCenter Hx5, and an entry-level, two processor solution called the System x3690 X5.

“With the growing use of virtualization, memory is the bottleneck,” said Hagan. “This generation of servers breaks the traditional x86 barrier on memory,” he said. “Memory will scale about six times the current footprint of a four-socket machine. We call it redefining x.”

IBM is calling the memory decoupling feature Max5. In addition to the eX5 systems, IBM will offer FlexNode, a software-based enhancement that allows a multi-processor system to be divided into two separate systems and then restored back to its original configuration.

The point of FlexNode is that it enables scheduled provisioning. Users can run interactive applications by day and batch jobs by night on the same system using the FlexNode feature, saving power and licensing costs.

In addition, the vendor is offering eXFlash, a new flash storage solution that replaces older, spinning drives.

Market share jump corresponds to introduction of new server line

IBM introduces the eX5 systems as its x86 server share experienced a significant run-up in the fourth quarter of last year, mirroring a jump in that entire segment. According to data compiled by researcher International Data Corp., IBM posted the biggest jump among leading x86 server vendors to command a 19.6 percent revenue share for a 3.5 point year-over-year share gain.

The researcher said that x86 servers captured more than 57 percent of the market in the fourth quarter of 2009, reversing a long standing trend in which non-x86 servers have dominated the market during the year’s closing period.

Accordingly, the vendor is crediting competitive displacements from former Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett Packard Co. customers with prompting Q4 2009 upticks in its revenue share for Unix servers, System x and storage.

In Q4 2009, IBM said that its revenue share for Power Systems ticked up four points, System x moved up three points and it also posted storage gains for the period.

eX server line lauded for impact on virtualization, power, maintenance, costs

Acxiom Corp., a Little Rock, AR-based infrastructure management provider and an early user of the eX5 systems, termed the new machines “game changers,” according to David Guzman, the company’s chief information officer.

“We’ve been able to double our virtualization capacity, dropping our software licensing costs,” Guzman said.

“The price/performance equation is extraordinarily compelling, with five times the performance at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, there is a positive impact on all of the other key components of IT cost -- space, power, labor, maintenance.”

Pund-IT Inc. analyst Charles King said that the “eX5 story is not just about processors and memory—it’s about systems. The ability to support more virtual machines and applications on individual processors can significantly reduce the cost of software license based on processor count—IBM estimates up to 50 percent savings—and help lower data center operating expenses.”

TAGS: IBM,virtualization,data center,servers,consolidation

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