As with many of my software-geek friends, I know little to nothing about hardware. The pretty, flashing lights on my servers are fun to look at, but I couldn't begin to crack a server open or explain how the hardware works. But my attitude about hardware changed when I investigated a new IBM hardware platform called Enterprise X-Architecture Technology.

A colleague told me about this new server platform the first week of December, and I didn't believe a single word he said. His descriptions sounded far-fetched, and until I read IBM's 24-page white paper on the topic I was convinced he misunderstood the technology.

Enterprise X-Architecture Technology offers several innovative hardware improvements. I'm a database performance-tuning geek at heart, so the product's revolutionary scalability enhancements caught my eye. Imagine the following scenario: You're the DBA for a dot-com startup, and you have to build a scalable database platform. Because you have a viable business plan, you can't spend a trillion dollars on your hardware platform. You have a limited amount of funds, and your research shows that a 4X WinTel box should be more than enough hardware for your needs. Uh-oh! Projections were way off; you'll need at least an 8X box, and even that might not be enough! Thanks for playing; please try your luck again at the hardware-prediction version of Russian Roulette. Four-CPU SMP servers have become commodity items, but prices scale quickly if you need a single chassis that can support 8, 16, or even more CPUs. Regardless of what the vendors tell you, building a single database application that spans multiple instances of the database across multiple servers is difficult.

Now consider the same scenario in the land of IBM's Enterprise X-Architecture Technology. The single 4X SMP node isn't enough; what can you do? Simple; just buy another 4X node and connect the two nodes with a cable. Configure the two commodity-priced 4X servers as a single physical partition that—to the OS—looks like a single 8X server. You can spread the CPUs, memory, and I/O across two physical server chassis, but to the OS it still looks like a single server with shared SMP-style resources. Your job is safe again; you can breathe a sigh of relief. Need to add another eight CPUs? No sweat! Simply buy two more 4X nodes and join them into a single partition that looks like a 16X-SMP server.

The implications of this expand-on-demand capability are staggering. And in many ways, they make the software-side argument of scale out (multiple physical nodes) versus scale up (single-node SMP) unimportant. I'll explore this technology along with its availability and impact on Microsoft products in an upcoming issue of SQL Server Magazine UPDATE. Until then, I encourage you to read the white paper listed above and peruse the Enterprise X-Architecture Technology information resources on the IBM Web site.