IBM revamps hardware lines

In one of its more significant server hardware announcements in recent years, IBM has formally announced the rebranding of its entire server lines, including its cash cow S/390 line of mainframes, under a new banner it hopes will better position it in the rapidly mushrooming e-business world.

The company's Unix-based RS/6000 line and AS/400 minicomputer lines are included in the rebranding.

The rebranding comes as the Internet enters a new phase. One executive called it the "serious e-business phase", where users will need superior processing and comprehensive e-business infrastructure to uniformly deploy different workloads and applications across many different architectures.

"The Internet is moving to an era we call serious e-business, where users need an integrated e-business infrastructure that must work flawlessly regardless of the volumes and very different work loads it must support. This is part of what is driving our new [hardware] server strategy," said Irving Wldawsky-Berger, IBM's vice president of technology and strategy.

As part of its research in evaluating the different types of e-business infrastructures users need for e-business going forward, IBM formed the Institute of High Performance Web Computing, which studied 500 e-businesses ranging from Fortune 1000 companies to those born on the Web. The company concluded from its research that it needed to markedly restructure its hardware server line-up.

"We concluded that we had to redesign our offerings to accommodate the types of workloads and buyers who characterise the new economy. From that, we realised we had to radically transform our server business if we hope to be a leading provider of e-business infrastructure," said Bill Zeitler, senior vice president and group executive of IBM's server group. In addition to tailoring its servers to meet varying workloads and to do so uniformly across different hardware platforms, IBM was also inspired to recast its server line due to the growing influence of the open source movement.

"To us it became clear the open source movement was going to fundamentally change the way people built and deployed [server] applications. Technologies like Linux, Apache, XML, Java, and EJB are going to let people build applications in a much more transportable way," Zeitler said.

To that end, not only is IBM bringing all four server lines under one marketing brand, it also plans to aggressively continue to deliver common sets of technologies to markets that will do a better job of physically tying the systems together.

"It won't be just common chips, but common middle-ware, interconnectivity, hardware management consoles, management protocols, and operator navigational capabilities," Zeitler said.

The IBM eServer line, which has been referred to in recent months as Project Mach 1, now includes IBM's S/390, RS/6000, AS/400, and Netfinity servers. The pricing and positioning of those lines spans mainframes costs of millions of dollars aimed at the largest of companies, to Intel-based servers costing less than $US10,000 and aimed at the smallest of accounts.

Along with the rebranding strategy, the company introduced 16 new models across all four lines, including its new z900 mainframe, the expected upgrade of its S/390 system. The new system has been redesigned to better handle the unpredictable up and down demands of e-business transactions, and is capable of handling as many as 83 billion transactions per second.

At the heart of the new system is a newly redesigned processor complex board measuring about 13 centimetres by 13 centimetres (5in by 5in), but that has packed onto it 2.5 billion circuits. This allows the new system to offer three times the bandwidth of its previous mainframes, along with being able to handle about 16 times more secure SSL transactions than any other system now on the market, said Zeitler.

Big Blue also introduced a new operating system, called the zOS, to work with its line of z series mainframes that contain several features that take advantage of servers, new capabilities.

Other systems brought under the eServer umbrella include the P series, formerly the RS/6000; the I Series, formerly the AS/400 series, and the X Series, which takes in the Netfinity line as well as the company's Numa-Q Intel-based systems.

Along with the new systems IBM has also announced a new pricing model for pricing its new operating system software based on a customer's use of the product, instead of based on a hardware system's processor and performance capacities.

Continuing its aggressive support of Linux, IBM also announced it is opening up 10 new porting centres around the globe to help users carry over existing applications on a variety of other operating environments to work with the open source operating system.

IBM plans to put its money where its mouth is, with company officials announcing they will spend $75 million on marketing the new brand over just the next three months. They said they have earmarked another $250 million for marketing next year.

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