IBM server gives users more high-end options

IBM last week launched its 32-processor p690 server, a machine that analysts and users said will intensify the competitive landscape in the high-end Unix market.

Code-named Regatta, the p690 includes features such as server clustering, Linux support and partitioning. While IBM hopes those features will strengthen its high-end Unix foothold, users said the server increases their options in a market that's dominated by fewer vendors.

"The market is more competitive now," said Mark Sieczkowski, senior director of worldwide data center operations at Gap Inc. in San Francisco. The p690 should help IBM challenge Sun Microsystems Inc.'s high-end machines more effectively, he added.

"This is probably a breakthrough technology for IBM, but they have a lot at stake in terms of follow-through," said Joe Giacometti, senior vice president of IT at supermarket giant Ahold USA Inc. For instance, IBM must prove that the p690 meets application-compatibility requirements and that its new partitioning technology is solid, he said.

Chantilly, Va.-based Ahold received a p690 last Monday but has yet to put the system through quality assurance and compatibility testing. Still, Giacometti said he expects to consolidate his 100 IBM RS/6000 servers into fewer p690 machines and to possibly run distributed applications on the Linux operating system.

IBM has long supported partitioning on its mainframes. But the ability to partition the p690 is a big step forward for its Unix division, said Richard Dougherty, an analyst at Envisioneering Corp., a Seaford, N.Y.-based consulting firm. Partitioning lets users run multiple applications simultaneously on a single server.

Unix rivals such as Sun and Hewlett-Packard Co. already support partitioning on some servers, such as the high-end Sun Fire 15K system Sun announced two weeks ago. Dougherty said IBM's lack of partitioning has made it harder for users to compare pricing if they "wanted common elements from each vendor to bargain down on each point."

"There hasn't been the ability to do an apples-to-apples comparison of high-end IBM Unix machines against Sun," said Mike Vildibill, deputy director of resources at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California.

IBM is also touting energy conservation features that are appealing to users such as Gap. Sieczkowski said the US$14 billion clothing retailer expects to save $100,000 in electricity costs this year after switching from a Hitachi Data Systems Corp. mainframe to a newer IBM S/390. That follows Santa Clara, Calif.-based Hitachi's exit last year from the mainframe market.

Sieczkowski said he hopes to see similar savings if Gap uses the p690 to consolidate its large server farm.

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