IBM's plans for an agressively-priced series of Linux-only systems will take Linux into the lower end of the market.
Plans to push its Power5 line of servers will put it in competition with products from Sun and Hewlett-Packard.
Specifically tuned to run Linux, the new four-way, 64-bit eServer OpenPower machines will ship only with either Red Hat's distribution of Linux, based on the 2.4 Linux kernel, or the Suse Linux version, which is based on the 2.6 kernel but will not offer IBM's own AIX operating system.
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"We sat down with the key maintainers of Linux and asked them what we can do inside the Power 5, Power 5 Plus, and eventually the Power 6 architectures to accelerate the [performance] of Linux.
"This is why we are introducing things like first failure data capture, hardware-based cache coherencies, and much improved synchronisation mechanics," said Brian Connors, vice-president in charge of IBM's Linux on Power Business line of products.
As part of the rollout IBM will also offer details of a two-way Power-based system to be delivered early next year, Connors said.
IBM officials believe they can use the strength they have been building among application developers for the Power architecture, where they claim to now have hundreds of certified applications that can work with the new lower-end systems.
"We have over 650 certified applications for Linux on Power, and now we can extend those down to servers with one to four processors, thereby creating a solid entry-level platform for Linux. And if they want to extend and scale Linux, say, in a logical partition, they still have our pSeries and xSeries lines," Connors said.
"This will make it more possible to deliver some of the advantages of the security and affordability Linux can offer," a company spokesman said.
IBM sees a rich opportunity for the systems in the financial and retail industries where Sun, in particular, has been strong. The company, through its network of resellers and business partners, plans to deliver a number of products geared towards those markets later this year.
The company will make its Virtualization Engine available as an option with the four-way systems. That technology helps administrators simplify the management and utilisation of hardware and software resources and enables them to support business process change.
"Through virtualisation we can go after those users looking to do server consolidation of workloads. You can consolidate 20 servers, each costing $3,000 (£1,668) to $4,000, down to one Power-based system with a $2,000 virtualisation engine," Connors said.
The two eServer OpenPower Model 720s will be positioned against the higher end of Sun and HP's entry-level Unix servers and can be purchased with either the 1.5GHz or 1.65GHz versions of the Power 5.
They are available in either a rack mount or tower configuration, can hold as much as 64GBytes, and can be supplied with IBM's Virtualisation Engine. The system can hold either the single or dual-core versions of the Power 5.
Ed Scannell writes for Infoworld