IBM stays firm on Unix, goes big on Power

Confident that Unix is not a dying breed, Big Blue is stepping up efforts to expand its Power server footprint and its plans include the SMB market.

SINGAPORE--IBM remains bullish on Unix, undeterred by the server platform's dismal market performance last year where it lost out to Windows for the first time.

Lawrence Ng, country manager for IBM's systems and technology group, told ZDNet Asia: "While Unix shipments have declined globally, the demand for efficiency and performance in processors will remain--that should drive Unix sales.

"If you want high performance computing, you'll still look at RISC [reduced instruction set computer] processors, including IBM's Power5," he said.

According to IDC's latest Server Tracker report, US$17.7 billion worth of Windows-based servers were sold worldwide last year, compared with US$17.5 billion in Unix-based servers. It is the first time the Unix platform did not occupy the top position since the report was first introduced in 1996.

Ng said that for Unix to win more market share, vendors such as IBM should continue to innovate on the platform.

"We believe that [IBM's] Power [chip] has got the capability to address not just the Unix market, but also the embedded systems and consumer product segments. That should give us the volumes to drive more innovation."

To drive its ambition to expand the footprint of Power, IBM has earmarked the SMB (small and midsize business) segment for growth. The company recently introduced an "Express" series with the Power5+ chip, an enhanced version of the Power5 processor, according to Ng.

Called IBM System p5 Express, the new server line targets SMBs with branch locations running business-critical database applications in retail, wholesale, distribution and financial services. The products range from the System 5 p5 550Q with quad-core Power5+ chips for database applications, to the System p5 505 with older Power processors used in computing clusters.

Ng assured businesses that IBM will continue to deliver on its product roadmaps. "In the last 10 years, we've only made one delay… the Power6, and by 12 months, because we wanted to squeeze out more juice from Power5, with [the introduction of] Power5+."

Taking on Itanium
Hewlett-Packard (HP), one of IBM's closest competitors in the server market, was afflicted by product delays and performance issues with Intel's Itanium processor.

To boost Itanium's footprint, Intel, HP and other technology companies, last month formed the Itanium Solutions Alliance (ISA) to encourage independent software vendors (ISVs) to develop applications for Itanium-based systems.

Early this month, HP also announced plans to launch a campaign showcasing its Itanium-based Integrity server line. The company's CEO Mark Hurd said HP is committed to invest US$1 billion per year over the next five years in Integrity.

The market however, Ng said, will go undergo a process of "natural selection" where companies will opt for technologies that have a definitive lifespan.

"Itanium, at the whims of Intel taking away features in Montecito, will be of concern to customers," Ng said.

But Intel remains confident of Montecito, with its chief executive officer Paul Otellini recently reiterating the company's Itanium roadmap.

"We have a clear roadmap to 2010 and beyond with four generations of Itanium in development inside Intel," he said, referring to Montecito, Montvale, Tukwila and Poulson. "We have hundreds of Intel engineers working on [software development] tools and compilers. The hundreds working on compilers, pales to the thousands of engineers doing silicon development."