IBM guns for Sun in Unix server arena

IBM wants to be no. 1 in the Unix server market, and it makes no bones about its desire to displace Sun Microsystems Inc.

IBM wants to be no. 1 in the Unix server market, and it makes no bones about its desire to displace Sun Microsystems Inc. to get there.

Last week, IBM released four new RS/6000 servers with related storage devices that, as a group, offer IT organizations more horsepower per square foot than the company's existing models. The company also unveiled an upgrade to its AIX operating system. The product onslaught was unleashed at a major press event here.

The centerpiece of the offerings is the RS/6000 S80, the first Unix system equipped with IBM's copper-based processors. The expandable machine supports as many as 24 450MHz PowerPC symmetric multiprocessors, giving it a maximum data throughput rate of 43.2GB per second.

IBM also introduced two other servers, both designed for scientific and technical applications: the RS/6000 SP Power3 SMP High Node and the RS/6000 T70 Workgroup Server.

The SP Power3 features as many as eight 64-bit 222MHz Power3 processors; the T70 is also equipped with up to eight Power3 processors.

In addition, the Armonk, N.Y., company unveiled the RS/6000 B50. The thin server is being marketed, along with a line of Windows-based Netfinity servers, as the backbone of the company's ISP (Internet service provider) and ASP (application service provider) strategy. Complementing the B50 is a storage subsystem called 2104 Expandable Storage Plus (see story, Page 96).

New in Version 4.3.3 of IBM's AIX operating system is support for 24-way SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) systems with 64GB of memory. Support for EtherChannel, quality of service and IP Security enhances performance and scalability, officials said. Officials also played up enhancements in security and Java support.

Although officials said Sun is definitely in IBM's sights, they acknowledged that taking the Unix market lead from the Mountain View, Calif., company will take time.

"This is more than a set of product announcements. We are relaunching our Unix strategy," said Debra Thompson, IBM's vice president for Product Marketing and Segment Solutions. "Unfortunately, I think it will take 12 to 16 months" to overtake Sun, Thompson said.

IBM is not the only server maker looking to knock Sun off its pedestal. Last month, Houston-based Compaq Computer Corp. announced that it too was going after Sun to gain the top position among ISPs and ASPs.

While IBM is targeting both Unix and Windows NT servers in this space, Compaq is highlighting its efforts on the NT side. The choice of operating systems could be a factor for many ISPs and ASPs.

"I sleep a lot easier with Unix, for lots of reasons," said S. Jay Chavez, vice president of worldwide Internet services at Ursus Telecom Corp., in Sunrise, Fla. "I have racks of [Windows-based Compaq] ProLiant serv ers, but I don't use them in my mission-critical environments."

Pricing for the S80, available this week, starts at $290,000. The SP Power3 SMP High Node will be available in January priced at $184,080. Pricing for the T70, also due in January, starts at $188,630.