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News > Technology
IBM puts Sun, HP on alert
October 15, 2000: 6:03 p.m. ET

Server war about to heat up as Big Blue tosses 'Turbo' out into the fray
By Staff Writer Richard Richtmyer
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - IBM is preparing to launch its latest offensive in the ongoing war for control of the market for computer systems used by Internet-based businesses.

Big Blue on Monday will officially unveil its latest Unix server, code-named "Turbo," which executives say trounces competing systems from Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard in both price and performance.

The new system, called the eServer pSeries 680, is powered by 24 microprocessors built using a semiconductor technology IBM developed called "silicon-on-insulator," which increases their performance by as much as 30 percent.

IBM's server processors already had used copper wires -- instead of the industry-standard aluminum -- to connect the millions of transistors on the chips. Because it conducts electricity more efficiently than aluminum, chips made with copper can use much thinner wires, and each chip can hold more transistors, allowing more processing power in a smaller package.

By combining the silicon-on-insulator technology with the existing copper chips, IBM's (IBM: Research, Estimates) latest server outperforms competing systems from Sun (SUNW: Research, Estimates) and HP (HWP: Research, Estimates), and it does so with fewer processors, according to Jim McGaughan, a director in IBM's eServer products group.

For Unix customers, a server with fewer processors is less expensive to own and operate because license fees for most of the software used on it are tied to the number of processors on the system. The more processors there are, the more expensive the license for the software is.

"This is just another example of IBM's commitment to deliver high performance and exceeding value to our customers in Unix systems," said McGaughan.

graphicDemand for Unix servers, so named for the operating system they run, has been soaring as the Internet economy expands and more companies move their business online. And IBM, which at last count was running third behind Sun and HP in that space, has become an increasingly tenacious competitor.

The company has been relentless in its efforts to unseat Sun as the server king, deploying the technology it has developed in its research facilities across its entire line of server products.

As for the competition, HP introduced its latest server aimed at Internet-based businesses, dubbed "SuperDome," last month. But the company doesn't expect to begin shipping them in volume until late December.

For its part, Sun last month also showcased its next generation of Web servers, which are powered by its long-awaited UltraSPARC III processors. While Sun has begun shipping its low-end UltraSparc III-based servers, the company does not expect to begin selling the mid-range and high-end products, which use as many as 64 processors, for about another nine months.

With the pSeries 680, which is priced starting at $420,000, McGaughan said IBM has captured eight major performance benchmark records, including the most e-commerce transaction per minute.

"They're the first ones to break the 200,000 transactions-per-minute benchmark, and that's critical," said Brad Day, senior analyst at Giga Information Group. "They're now able to offer a lot more applications performance for lower price configurations."

HP's SuperDome, which is priced starting at $400,000, is expected to show similar transaction-processing capability when the company releases the benchmark results for that system later this year. However, they would achieve those results using 64 or more processors, compared with IBM's 24.

"On a very low processor count, IBM now has performance benchmarks that are really going to put HP and Sun in a quandary, because they're going to have to match them," Day said.

graphicWhat's more, IBM's McGaughan said Big Blue is ready to start moving the pSeries 680 out the door within a month's time, giving it a big head start against the competition.

"We are going to be shipping these systems within 30 days," McGaughan said. "So the numbers we're talking about are numbers that our competitors are saying they're going to do sometime in the year 2001."

In addition to the higher performance benchmarks, IBM's pSeries 680 will be IBM's first Unix server offered with a "pay-as-you-grow" pricing option. That means customers can buy systems with built-in processing power that remains dormant until such time as they need it. They only pay for the extra computing power when they switch it on, which can be done with a single command.

Sun and HP have already been offering similar pricing options for their Unix servers, but IBM had made it available only in its mainframe systems. Transferring that technology was key for IBM as it contends for the title of server king, according to Giga's Day.

"It was critical for IBM to answer both HP and Sun's capacity on demand programs to allow IT managers to be more creative on financing alternatives," he said. Back to top

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