IBM Goes After the Unix Market

IBM today enhanced its Unix server lineup with new models and software aimed at high-end enterprise and Internet applications.

The products should help IBM regain price and performance leadership in the Unix market, said Debra A. Thompson, IBM's vice president of product marketing.

"We absolutely intend to take on Sun (Microsystems Inc.) at the high end,'' with these systems, Thompson said. "And we have the aggressive prices needed" to go after high-end market share, she added.

The highlight of this morning's announcement was the new RS/6000 S80, a 24-processor system based on IBM's 450-MHz PowerPC RS64 III copper chip.

The system comes with support for up to 64G bytes of memory and 45T bytes of external storage, and will offer nearly three times the raw performance of its predecessor, the Model S70A, according to IBM. The product will have an entry price of $290,000 and will start shipping later this month.

"The new servers give us the ability to scale greatly,'' said Hugh Hale, a senior manager of information systems at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee in Chattanooga. The company recently installed a 12-way, S80 server to accommodate a growing workload that would have pushed its existing S70 servers to capacity in about four months, Hale said. The servers are equipped with 16G bytes of memory, 7T bytes of storage and currently support 5,000 users. "With this, I don't have to worry about headroom'' for some time, he added.

Meanwhile, at the low end, IBM today introduced the RS/6000 B50, code-named Pizzazz, a thin, 3.5-inch, rack-mountable system that allows Internet service providers to stack multiple systems in a space-saving rack. The system is based on the 375-MHz PowerPC chip and supports IBM's AIX operating system as well as Linux. It starts at $4,000.

Included in this morning's announcement was AIX 4.3.3, the latest release of IBM's Unix operating system, featuring a new workload manager that allows users to consolidate and manage multiple workloads on a single server.

The new systems position IBM's products favorably against competing products from Sun, Thompson said. For instance, a six-way IBM S80 server starts at around $290,000 -- or roughly a third the price of a four-processor E10000 server from Sun. Similarly, the new Pizzazz boxes at $4,000 are substantially lower priced than similar systems from Sun, Thompson said.

Delivering much of the increased performance are the much faster copper chips that the new servers are based on, and a so-called nonblocking crossbar switch technology that more than doubles data-transfer speed between the CPU and memory.

"When you want to be No. 1, you go after the No. 1 player'' in the Unix business, Thompson said.

Coming down the road: RS/6000 servers based on a forthcoming superfast IBM chip code-named Istar, which will use new silicon insulation technology. That's expected to be launched sometime by the end of next year. Also in the cards around the same time are the first RS/6000 servers based on Non-Uniform Memory Access technology that IBM hopes to acquire from its proposed purchase of Sequent Computer Systems Inc.

IBM, which was once considered a market leader in the Unix server business, now trails Sun in market share.

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