IBM puts supercomputer Watson’s smarts in SMB servers
By Agam Shah
PCWorldFeb 5, 2013 4:51 am PST
IBM’s Watson supercomputer outperformed humans in the televised game show “Jeopardy.” Now the company is moving some of its underlying technologies from the supercomputer into new entry-level servers.
The company’s new Power Express servers announced on Tuesday will integrate some hardware and software elements derived from Watson. The servers start at US$5,947, and IBM is targeting the new products at businesses with over 100 employees.
The new Power Express 710, 720, 730 and 740 servers include IBM’s Power7+ chips, which were introduced in October. By lowering the price of the servers, IBM hopes to take on rivals like Hewlett-Packard and Dell, which sell large volumes of commodity servers based on x86 chips.
With Watson technologies, companies can use the new servers to analyze warehouses of data, and to answer complex queries with high levels of confidence. The technologies will provide insights into structured and unstructured data at a cheaper cost, said Steve Sibley, director of Power Systems offering management at IBM.
“The ability to leverage that capability for analytics is more affordable than ever,” Sibley said.
Watson used advanced algorithms and a natural language interface to answer questions on Jeopardy, but not all advanced technologies will make it to the new entry-level servers. Some common features such as the core customized software to analyze warehouses of data will be available depending on the price, configuration and target market. Another technology being adopted from Watson is Hadoop, a scalable computing environment that deals with large data sets. IBM’s Cognos and SPSS software can be built on top of the integrated offerings for business and predictive analytics.
The servers can be used by mid-size clients to more effectively manage supply chains, Sibley said. Using software and hardware, the servers can help manage inventory or build catalogs, Sibley said.
IBM’s Power offerings have traditionally appealed to large organizations, though some smaller companies have adopted the servers. Power servers have done well in industries like healthcare and retail, and the Power Express servers may be attractive to small or midmarket companies in the same industries, Sibley said.
For example, IBM’s high-end Power servers can help diagnose diseases using technologies derived from the Watson project. While it may be expensive to implement technologies like natural language interfaces in the entry-level servers, IBM will provide analytics capabilities to meet the budgets of smaller businesses.
The new servers also enable virtualization and can help businesses deploy private clouds, Sibley said. The servers are offered with optional PowerVM, which can virtualize memory, processors, networking and storage to effectively manage server resources.
The single-socket Power 710 Express and two-socket 730 Express are 2U rack servers that offer maximum storage of up to 5.4TB. The 710 has a memory capacity of 256GB, while the 730 has more disk bays and supports up to 512GB of memory in eight slots. The servers have five PCI-Express slots.
The single-socket Power 720 Express and two-socket 740 Express are 4U rack servers with storage capacity of up to 7.2TB. The servers support up to 512GB of memory, while the 720 has 25 PCI-Express slots, and the 740 has 45 PCI-Express slots.
Depending on the configuration, processor options include Power7+ with between four to 16 cores. The servers either run IBM’s AIX, Red Had Enterprise Linux 6.2 or Suse Linux Enterprise Server 11.
IBM also upgraded its high-end Power 750 Express 19U rack with Power7+ chips. It also announced the faster and denser PureData System for Analytics for advanced analytics, a new PureApplication System for cloud deployments, and a PureApplication System on Power7+ for transaction processing and analytics in the cloud.