IBM takes on Sun with copper-based rollout

Redoubling its efforts to go after market leader Sun Microsystems in the red-hot Web server market, IBM has introduced three models in its RS/6000 M80 Unix mid-range server line. The new servers feature copper chips, which require less power and operate at higher speeds than aluminium chips.

The mid-range line has the same microprocessor technology as the high-end S80 and comes in rack or desk-side configurations. The new line includes the M80, H80 and F80 models and is aimed at companies doing business over the Internet, particularly those faced with unpredictable growth, said Mike Maas, IBM Web server product manager.

"The mid-range 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 mid-range space for Unix Web servers," Maas said.

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 per cent faster than Sun's higher-end system [the E6500]," Maas said.

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, (CW May 22, p10).

The new RS/6000 F80 model is a desk-side six-way server intended for mid-size companies looking to conduct e-business transaction processing or for departments in larger companies who need workgroup or branch servers. The H80 server, successor to 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 optimised to run it. But if there is one that is best suited to run it among the three, it is probably the M80," Maas said.

Copper chips boost IBM hardware

IBM's Power3-II 18-micron copper processors burn cooler, consume one-third less power and run up to six times faster than most other chips, which use aluminium, according to an analyst.

"Copper has a fierce advantage over aluminium wiring," said Andrew Allison, a computer industry consultant.

"It just about doubles the frequency. It also dissipates less power because copper is a better conductor [than aluminium], making the chip faster, cooler, and apparently cheaper."

IBM officials have confirmed that the more than 400 metres of copper wiring in every Power3-II processor is less expensive than using aluminium wiring, although the company did not offer any figures.

"It's just a matter of time before everybody goes to copper processors," Allison said.

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