IBM server range aims to target Sun territory

IBM last week presented a new generation of mid-range Unix servers powered by copper chips, which should speed up e-business operations and bring greater reliability.

They move is designed to bring IBM into closer competition with server market leader Sun Microsystems.

IBM is launching three new mid-range servers and has committed to develop new Linux-based operating system products. The new servers promise to `shatter web and e-business speed records’, said Michel Teyssedre, director of web-server sales.

IBM’s RS/6000 line servers, M80, H80 and F80, are a follow-up to the high-end S80 server launched last year. They promise mainframe-class reliability and serviceability using breakthrough copper microprocessor technology (see below).

The new RS/6000 line is the first in the IT industry to be completely powered by copper. Designed to be ultra-reliable, the range is available in flexible rack, stack or desk-side configurations. They are targeted at critical 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week, operations such as enterprise resource planning, internets/intranets and customer management systems.

Each new server has mainframe features to ensure very high availability. A system called `dynamic CPU de-allocation’ isolates any processor problems and keeps applications running.

As user demand can rocket overnight in the e-business environment, hot swappable hard disks and hot-plug redundant power supplies ensure that the system can be scaled up quickly for more power and memory.

The RS/6000 range also has `a work load management’ system which allows the processor to keep running certain applications during quiet periods. For example, an organisation can run intensive applications like enterprise resource planning systems in the day-time and security back-up at night.

In trials by independent test companies TPC, SPEC and Volcano, the M80 was shown to outperform the Sun E4500 and SE6500. It costs around $80,000 (£54,000) for an 8-way system with up to 32GB of RAM.

The six-way H80 is the successor to IBM’s H70 mid-range and is claimed to be 35% faster than Sun’s E3500, with up to 16GB of RAM at an entry price of around $25,000. The F80 can fit under a desk and offers a 6-way, 500MHz Unix server for medium-sized operations, with up to 16GB of RAM at an entry price of just under $23,000.

But Chris Sarfas, Sun’s UK product marketing manager, said: IBM’s price performance comparison was unfair as `IBM is not comparing like with like.’ For example, the tests compared transaction processing in a 6-way F80 against Sun’s E450, a 4-way processor.

`IBM says it aims to destroy Sun’s dominance of the server market, but we are the market leader,’ he added. According to IDC research, Sun’s server sales were double IBMs in the UK Unix market in 1999, and IBM’s sales of AIX, its own version of Unix, declined by 26.5% while Sun’s sales doubled.

Sarfas added that while Sun concentrates on one operating system, Solaris, `IBM is dissipating its energies over AIX, MVS, Windows, OS/2 and now Linux.’

While IBM leads the way with copper chips, Sun will be introducing similar chips next year. But Sarfas said these chips are `just a small improvement to a minor component in a complete e-business system’.

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