IBM Corp. this week launched its first 64-bit mainframe computer amid a sweeping server rebranding effort aimed at improving the company's market position against faster-growing rivals.
The company also announced new mainframe software pricing options, which could reduce software license charges for corporations if other vendors are willing to agree to IBM's proposed changes, as some appear to be analysts said.
Under the new branding campaign, all IBM servers will be sold under the same common brand name of eServer, with different model names distinguishing the various IBM server platforms.
The rebranding should narrow the differences among IBM's various hardware platforms, said John Ciko, CIO at CommerceQuest Inc., a Tampa, Fla.-based application hosting and integration service provider. "I think they are tying all their platforms closer and making it look like one server family instead of a disparate set [of technologies]," Ciko said.
IBM's move comes at a crucial time for the company, said Sam Albert, an independent consultant in Scarsdale, N.Y. Rivals such as Sun Microsystems Inc. have been able to grow faster because their focus on a single line of products has allowed them to communicate better with users. In contrast, the complexity of IBM's server lines has tended to confuse users, Albert said.
Meanwhile, the new mainframe, called the z900, should offer users substantially better performance and more application management capabilities than IBM's current Generation 6 mainframes, Albert said.
The 16-processor z900 is based on IBM's first 64-bit mainframe chips and delivers approximately 2,500 MIPS of performance, according to IBM.
The servers support features - including much larger real memory support, dynamic load-balancing and the ability to create thousands of "virtual servers" within a single physical server - optimized for fast-growing applications such as e-commerce and enterprise resource planning, according to IBM.
The ability to create multiple virtual servers means users can have "gobs of Linux servers running within one partition," for instance, said Bill O'Donnell, a senior information technology consultant with the Wisconsin state government in Madison.
A crucial aspect of the new server, which IBM is pushing as the ultimate e-commerce engine, is its support for new software-pricing models.
IBM has introduced a new Workload License Charges pricing model for users running applications on the z/OS operating system on the z900 server. Under it, users will be charged for software based on actual average usage - measured in four-hour time periods - rather than the size of the overall servers, said IBM program director Pete McCaffrey.
This model means users can buy software licenses based on actual usage rather than on projected peak usage, said Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham, Mass.
This kind of flexibility "mirrors the need of e-business applications," which are often marked by sudden, unpredictable spikes in transaction loads, she said.
Making this sort of licensing possible is IBM's new License Manager technology on the z900 that will let users tie application workloads to specific processors or sets of processors in a way that is verifiable and measurable by both users and software vendors.
"It's been a big issue for a long time," said O'Donnell. "It'll be real interesting to see what this means to us in physical dollars."
Vendors Back New Model
Leading software vendors such as BMC Software Inc., Candle Corp. and Computer Associates International Inc. have agreed to support IBM's new Workload License Charges pricing model for z/OS software running on the z900 mainframe server.
Z/OS is the just-released version of what was formerly known as the OS/390 operating system. Z900 is a new mainframe in what was originally called the S/390 series.
Under Workload License Charges, software fees will be based on average use over four-hour periods rather than on overall capacity of a system. Making such usage measurable is the new License Manager technology that IBM has incorporated into its z900 server.
Such usage-based pricing is very different from typical mainframe software licenses, which are based on the size of a system - generally, the larger the system, the more users pay for the software.
Under the new model, Candle, for instance, will make the pricing available on all its software for IBM environments such as CICS, DB2 and IMS. IBM customers will be able to license Candle software for just that portion of a z9000 server on which it's actually running and pay based on that capacity.
Similarly, under BMC's Workload License Pricing model, users won't be charged software fees for any extra hardware capacity they may have, until it's actually used, according to a BMC statement.
Vendor support is going to be crucial if the new licensing model is to succeed, said John Phelps, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
One of the reasons most vendors have balked at the idea of offering usage-based software fees is the lack of tools that would allow such measurement. With IBM's standards-based License Manager technology, they "don't have that excuse," said Dan Kaberon, a Parallel Sysplex manager at Hewitt Associates LLC, a human resources outsourcer in Lincolnshire, Ill.
"If they are fair-minded players concerned about the long-term viability of the [mainframe], they should adopt it," he said.