IBM to Iron Out Server Plan

Big Blue is expected to roll out new systems, including an updated version of its zSeries 990 mainframe.

IBM is expected to set out with new server hardware, including an update for its mainframe line, on Tuesday.

The company is planning whats anticipated to be a fairly broad business systems and strategy update, including a buffed-up zSeries 990 mainframe, as part of a New York event Tuesday morning.

Despite the trend toward less expensive servers gaining mainframe-like capabilities, such as virtualization, mainframes have mounted a resurgence over the last few years.

Security-conscious corporations, such as large banks, continue to rely on the big iron systems to help them speedily process data as well as keep it secure.

Mainframes have also seen greater adoption in new markets such as Brazil, China, India and Russia, IBM executives have said.

"We have a number of our large enterprise customers who continue to depend on zSeries because of its security and because of its serviceability, where it is unmatched in these areas," said Rod Adkins, vice president of development for IBMs Systems and Technology Group, in a recent interview. "It has a much more controlled access environment."

Although IBMs big iron has fared better of late, the company has continued to work on maintaining the proper balance between the zSeries and its other server lines, IBM executives have said, ensuring that zSeries provides the right mix of performance for its price.

A typical zSeries 990 system costs upwards of $1 million. But comparing a mainframe to a standard server is something like measuring a Cessna against a fighter jet. Both will get you to where need to go, but the jet tends to do so much more quickly and its a lot tougher to boot, said one analyst.

When it comes to managing price for performance, "the mainframe has been working on that angle for many years now," said Jonathan Eunice, analyst at Illuminata in Nashua, N.H.

"Its no surprise that a two-processor Dell or HP box is a lot less expensive than a mainframe. The trick for [the mainframe] class of infrastructure is not to be out of the ballpark. People are buying I/O rates and availability—not just a lot of processors, but processors put together in such a way that they can perform really stressful jobs."

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about IBMs mainframe plans.

As part of its efforts to boost zSeries bang for the buck, IBM has created special offload processors, or add-ons that boost performance by taking on specific jobs such as processing for Java-language applications.

But much of IBMs mainframe development continues to focus on security, availability and serviceability, Adkins said.

Thus the update, expected Tuesday, adds to "the zSeries unique security, integration and workload management capabilities," said Mark Loughridge, IBMs CFO, during its second-quarter earnings conference call July 18.

The zSeries to be announced this week will be available in mid-September, Loughridge said.

IBM might also discuss additional efforts, such as expanding the offload processors it offers in the zSeries. The company currently provides dedicated processors, input/output, cryptography and memory control, in addition to Java.

Offload processors are vital to IBMs zSeries efforts, going forward, said Bob Hoey, IBMs worldwide vice president of sales for enterprise servers, in a recent interview. He declined to discuss what jobs additional offload processors would handle, however.

IBM might not stop at discussing its high-end zSeries plans. It may discuss developments such as additions to its pSeries and iSeries—a machine executives have said will be updated with IBMs new Power5+ chip in the near future—as well as offer up less expensive gear, such as servers using its new, dual-core PowerPC 970MP chip, one analyst offered.

IBM has also been eyeing midrange mainframe, which would fit between the zSeries 890 and zSeries 990 to the mainframe family.

"We are looking at a midrange box. But we havent made any decisions if we will or will not" offer one, Hoey said recently.

There is some room on its pricing sheet. Although the figures tend to vary by client, a zSeries 990 tends to range between $1 million and $1.5 million, while a z890 varies between about $350,000 to $500,000, he said.

An IBM spokesman, when asked, said he "declined to comment on unannounced products."

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Burt.

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