IBM Takes on Sun with Copper-Based Server Rollout

SAN MATEO (05/11/2000) - Redoubling its efforts to go after market leader Sun Microsystems Inc. in the red-hot Web server market, IBM Corp. today introduced three models in its RS/6000 server line that are all driven by copper chip technology.

Company officials Thursday claimed that all three midrange systems, the S80, H80, and the M80, perform faster than many of Sun's existing higher end systems due in large part to their copper-chip implementation. Performance has been measured by third-party benchmarks, according to IBM.

"The midrange is really the sweet spot for Web serving right now. There are literally tens of thousands of network servers around the globe and we think with these new systems we hope to redefine the performance and price in the midrange space for Unix Web servers," said Mike Maas, director of IBM's Web server products, based in Somers, New York.

The newest member of the trio is the model M80, a rack-mountable eight-way Web server targeted at enterprise-level customers who want to deploy industrial-strength e-commerce applications or to host more traditional internal database applications.

"The M80 fills in a gap we had in the high-end rack-mount server space, and has the same switched-based SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] structure as the [RS/6000] S80. I think it will offer great Java performance based on the VolanoMark Network scalability test [a dedicated Java benchmark], which showed we were 85 percent faster than Sun's higher-end system [the E6500]," Maas said.

Among the three systems, the M80 that appears to have the best chance of attracting customers outside of IBM's traditional customer base. As part of Thursday's announcement IBM will boast that Network Solutions, the company that runs the Internet Domain Registry, is throwing out its Sun-based systems in favor of the M80 because it offers a better price-performance deal.

"We are choosing the M80 over Sun to run a pretty important piece of the Internet. We thought IBM did a great job in packaging a lot of nice features into one box," said Bruce Chovnick, a general manager at Network Solutions.

If IBM is to cut down the lead Sun has held in the Unix-server market since late 1998, the company will have to continue winning over users outside its traditional user base, in the view of some observers. But attracting new customers is something IBM has not been particularly adept at over the years.

"The M80 fills a gap between the S80 and the H80 and it clearly targeted to get some of this new business they have been after, particularly in the service provider markets," said Jean Bozman, research director at IDC, in Mountain View, California.

For the most part Sun was able to capture the lead and maintain it the last two years because it identified early on the rich opportunity among the ISP and ASPs (application service providers). And because many of those companies were start-ups with no Y2K baggage to carry through 1999 and into 2000, Sun was able to mine those opportunities where IBM and Hewlett-Packard users in many cases delayed purchasing decisions.

"When HP and IBM were going through a slowdown in 1999 because of Y2K issues, Sun was relatively unaffected because they got into so many greenfield accounts that don't have an installed based or migration issue," Bozman said. "But now Y2K is over and so IBM, HP, and Compaq are saying, 'Hey, we want to go after some of that'," she said.

The new RS/6000 F80 model is a desk-side six-way server to intended for midsize companies looking to conduct e-business transaction processing or for departments in larger companies who need workgroup or branch servers.

The H80 server, successor the company's H70, is a six-way server and is also rack-mountable. Company officials believe it is best suited for applications involving e-business number crunching.

Both the F80 and H80, unlike the M80, are based on a more traditional bus architecture and typically have less memory in their standard configurations than the M80. The M80 can hold as many as 24 processors in a switched architecture.

All three systems come bundled with IBM's AIX 4.3.3 operating system, although they can also exploit many of the capabilities of the 64-bit Monterey operating system, company officials said.

"Since about 80 per cent of the code in Monterey comes from AIX, all these servers are already optimized to run it. But if there is one that is best suited to run it among the three, it is probably the M 80," Maas said.

All three systems will be available by the end of this month. Entry pricing on the M80 is $67,995; entry costs are $21,995 for the H80 and $18,995 for the F80.

More information about the systems is available at www.ibm.com/servers. IBM's RS/6000 unit is based in Somers, New York. IBM Corp., in Armonk, New York, is at www.ibm.com.

Ed Scannell is an InfoWorld editor at large.

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