Seeking Server Advantage

Interview: IBM's Zeitler: Company will not dump hardware manufacturing; iSeries refresh due this year.

William Zeitler, a 33-year IBM veteran, is senior vice president, group executive, of IBM Server Group, which includes the Armonk, N.Y., companys flagship mainframe, Unix and Intel Corp.-based products as well as storage. Zeitlers task: to see that this multifaceted hardware line competes effectively against the formidable array of Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc., Dell Computer Corp. and EMC Corp. products across different markets. In a recent interview with eWeek Executive Editor Stan Gibson, Zeitler explained his strategy and why, despite the companys ongoing move toward software and services, IBM will remain in the hardware business.

eWeek: IBM discussed a strategy of generally consolidating server lines a few years ago. Where is that strategy today?

Zeitler: We are consolidating our development for servers. Now we have one eServer development team thats responsible for all the products. A principal element of our strategy is convergence—in contrast with consolidation. We are using the same microprocessors in different systems. But we are not consolidating the brands.

eWeek: Some observers say the iSeries will be converged with the pSeries sometime this year or next. Can we look for that?

Zeitler: No. Thats not our plan. What we are going to do is leverage the technology that gave us leadership in the high end of Unix with Regatta and introduce iSeries products that have those same chips and packages in them. The first of those was the i890, which was essentially the same product as the p690 Unix system. We introduced that last [year]. This year, well refresh the rest of the iSeries using common converged technology.

eWeek: With commonality in hardware and the ability of at least one operating system, Linux, to run on all the systems, are you headed ultimately to a single product line?

Zeitler: I dont think wed have a single product line. But we would give customers a lot more deployment choice. Were taking our hypervisors [software for controlling multiple operating systems at once], putting them in microcode and letting people put multiple [operating systems] on one environment. You could take a zSeries system and run hundreds of thousands of Linuxes on it, and Linux could inherit some of the reliability characteristics of this platform.

The iSeries hypervisor would support OS/400, Java or Linux. Well have a common hypervisor for iSeries and pSeries, so you could combine as many Linuxes with AIXes as you wish.

That said, I dont see a time when you dont need Intel or zSeries microprocessors because they are architecturally different from Power microprocessors.

eWeek: Hitachi Ltd. makes the z800, a low-end mainframe introduced last year. Could Hitachi take over more manufacturing of the zSeries line?

Zeitler: I dont think youd see more of it. We have had Hitachi as a partner for a number of years, including the Regatta program. The p630 was released [in November] for Linux only. That is also made by Hitachi. But I cant see an environment where we wouldnt make most of our own stuff and most of our own high-end products.

eWeek: So you would not envision the time when you might outsource all hardware manufacturing to Hitachi?

Zeitler: Never. Nevers a long time, but I would never envision it. Were a technology company, with hardware, software and services. Well keep those things in balance. Clearly, in PC manufacturing, the economics would favor outsourcing. But in other systems, we have unique, sustainable advantage that were investing quite a bit of money in to keep.

eWeek: IBM talks a lot about grids, but where do they fit in the overall hardware strategy?

Zeitler: There were three elements to the eServer strategy. The first was to leverage technology across these platforms. The second was to be the most aggressive exploiters of the technology of the open movement—Linux, Apache and Java—and the third was to really develop a set of tools that would make it easier to manage the heterogeneous servers they were deploying. Those tools fall into the category of autonomic technologies—self-managing and self-healing; and grids—technologies to make it easier to interconnect and manage these diverse systems.

We say grids will be used in four types of areas. First, theyll be used for creating capacity—for example, in national labs here and abroad; second, in data grids—for example, the national mammographic data archive project in the United States. Theres one like it in Oxford, England, called e-Diamond. Third will be availability or resiliency grids inside companies to protect themselves in a seamless way; fourth, youll see utility grids, first around seismic or life sciences, where people will buy capacity.

eWeek: What is your strategy for beating Dell in the Intel server space?

Zeitler: Twofold. At the high end, with four-, eight-, 16-way systems and above, by taking technology from Unix and iSeries products and applying it to the Intel market. The Summit chip set was a set of scalability architectures developed in Rochester, Minn., that allowed us to make four-, eight-, 16-way Intel servers. And importantly, to get to the market with Xeon MP processors before anyone else could. The same chip set can also be used for IA-32 and IA-64 processors.

As of last quarter, we have overtaken everybody in eight-ways; I think we will this quarter in four-ways. Thats at the high end, and we are doing better than Dell there.

At the low end, we will deliver cost-effective one- and two-way systems.

Finally, we introduced the BladeCenter Alliance. Were collaborating with Intel and 80 members of the BladeCenter Alliance. Its an open set of protocols that we freely offer.

Dells an extremely competent and aggressive competitor, but weve got a strategy thats gaining ground in the market.