The x86 server war entered a new phase this week with new offerings from Dell, Lenovo, IBM (IBM) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) all based on the 22nm Intel Xeon processor E5-2600/1600 v3 series, also known as the Haswell class of x86 processors.
Aimed primarily at the high end of the IT market that increasingly wants to run applications in memory, each of the new servers provide support DDR4 memory that will enable applications to run three times as fast as the previous generation of Xeon processors.
The arrival of these new servers comes at a time when the battle for market share in the x86 server category has never been fiercer. Hewlett-Packard as the market leader has of late been gaining market share overall. But Dell, Cisco Systems (CSC) and Lenovo, which is still in the process of acquiring IBM's x86 server business, all view the higher end of the x86 server market as fertile ground to gain share at the expense of HP.
Dell, for example, unveiled the Dell PoweEdge 13th Generation Servers, which in addition to incorporating the latest Intel Xeon processors, sport 1.8-inch SATA flash drives and enhanced IT automation software that reduces the time it takes to update firmware by 92 percent.
“We like to call our approach rack, stack and relax,” said Brian Payne, executive director of Server Solutions for Dell. “With our servers customers are going to see a 73 percent reduction in troubleshooting.”
Lenovo, meanwhile, unveiled two rack servers and one tower based on the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600/1600 v3 series. Part of continuing expansion into rack-server market, the Lenovo ThinkServer RD550 can accommodate up to 12 drive bays and up to 26.4TB of internal storage in a 1U form factor. Previously, that same number of drive bays and storage would have required a 2u form factor.
“This is our fifth generation of servers,” said Dave Lincoln, director of Enterprise Product Marketing, Lenovo. “We think this is going to be the platforms for a new software-defined age of the data center.”
IBM, meanwhile, extended a server lineup at the higher end of the x86 server market to the expected benefit of Lenovo. The IBM M5 series, most of which are scheduled to ship this year, are based on the same server architecture that IBM first introduced in the latter half of 2013.
“We said that our server platforms would be able to support anything on the Intel roadmap at that time,” said Jeff Howard, vice president for IBM PureSystems and BladeCenter. “I think if you compare that to what other vendors are saying you’ll see how much that statement now stands on its own.”
HP and Cisco, meanwhile, previewed their next generation x86 servers earlier this month. The HP Proliant Generation 9 Servers will include Intel Xeon processors E5-2600/2600 v3 series processors later this year. Cisco, meanwhile, last week showed a new generation of rack and blade servers capable of supporting the latest Xeon processors as part of a major expansion of the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) platform.
For all of these vendors the difference between success and failure will come down to their ability to motivate channel partners to help them take market share. HP, for example, has spent the better part of the last year reinvigorating its channel. In fact, the channel played a key role in enabling HP to gain share primarily at the expense of IBM. Cisco, meanwhile, has done exceedingly well in the blade server category in the United States. Lenovo has done well selling lower-end tower systems, but expects to be a much more formidable competitor across the board in the coming year once the acquisition of the IBM x86 server business is complete.
It’s too early to say for sure which server vendors is going to execute best. But the one thing that is for certain is that the vendor that can get the most out their respective channel in terms of putting actual feet on the street is most likely going to carry the day in 2015.