Going after what many analysts believe will be an extremely lucrative market over the next few years, IBM next week at NetWorld+Interop in Atlanta will unveil its first series in a of newly-designed servers built specifically for ISPs.
The Netfinity 4000R, code-named the Intimidator, is a single processor server that is only 1.75-inches high, allowing ISPs to stack as many as 42 units, or 84 processors, in a single rack. IBM has licensed some of the technology used in the new design from Network Engines, although IBM officials claim the design and packaging of that technology is theirs.
The 4000R will be just the first of several systems aimed at this market. Also next week, the company will preview two higher-end servers that will be part of its new line and that will be available later this year.
The first, code-named Sparrow, is a two-way server that will be positioned as a "high-availability node," aimed at Application Service Providers (ASPs), according to company officials. The second server, code-named Silk Worm, is a four-way unit intended to serve as an infrastructure node more for industrial-strength applications.
Because Sparrow and Silk Worm are multiprocessor units and are taller units, ISPs cannot fit as many of these units into a single rack.
"The 4000R is a single U, which translates to 1.75-inches. A three U unit like Sparrow means three times 1.75 inches, which is about five inches -- which means you can get about 14 units in a rack,'' explained Tod Nicholson, product manager for IBM's rack optimised offerings in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The three upcoming units are expected to complement IBM's eight-way Intel-based Netfinity server as well as its thinner PowerPC-based RS/6000 server, called Pizzazz, that is scheduled to be announced next week.
With the 4000R, ISPs have the choice of bundling Windows NT 4.X, any of the four major versions of Linux, and when it becomes available, Windows 2000. IBM will also offer Linux on its upcoming RS/6000 server as well as AIX, allowing users to have an all-Linux solution across the two platforms.
"Between Netfinity and RS/6000 boxes, we can offer ISPs and ASPs a combination of four operating systems on two different hardware platforms. And we will have up to 30 ISV-specific solutions we can package for them that are all field-proven," said Jim Gargan, director of product marketing for Netfinity in Raleigh, North Carolina.
It is no coincidence that IBM is pushing Linux as hard as it is Windows NT on its new servers. Company officials admit that Linux is red hot in ISP markets, largely because of its easy configurability, and is showing few signs of slowing down.
"I can tell you our Linux play will be strong here. The ISP market has the highest affinity of all the markets we track. It will be a toss-up between Linux and Windows in most cases," Gargan said.
IBM is making an aggressive move now because of the lucrative market opportunity most industry observers expect the ISP market to represent. According to International Data Corp., the ISP market is worth $US6.5 billion this year but is expected to jump to $15.3 billion by 2002.
"We expect this market to grow 2.5 times from where we are today in pretty short order. What is driving it are these small- to medium-size companies who want connection to the Internet and more and more of them are turning to ISPs to Web-host their applications," Gargan said. Besides representatives from the four major Linux distributors, also present at next week's launch will be: Inktomi, which will show off its net-caching product; Real Networking, with whom IBM is currently working with to create streaming media solutions; and Resonate, which will show off load-balancing software for the IBM servers.
To help ISPs realise revenue opportunities quicker, IBM will let 4000R users order pre-configured systems direct from the factory. The company, also for the first time, will optionally offer Windows NT pre-loaded on systems.
ISPs have a metric they call 'time to revenues,' which refers to the ability to get a system up and running quickly so as to maximise revenues on that box, IBM said. This is what is driving these programs.
A third program, not due until the middle of next year, will allow large corporate accounts to order complete turnkey hardware-software-service solutions. IBM will work with those users to test and certify those systems and ship the direct and ready to run, Gargan said.
Expected to be available on September 30, the 4000R will cost approximately $4,000 for a base configuration, although final pricing has yet to be set, company officials said. That configuration consists of one 500-MHz Pentium III processor, a 9GB SCSI drive, 256MB of memory, dual 10/100 Gigabit Ethernet adapters, two PCI slots with one available.