IBM Shows its Hand in High-End Windows Hardware

IBM Corp. had been the lone holdout among major OEMs from a signing a deal to resell Unisys' big 32-processor servers built for Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. Now IBM has shown why it waited.

Big Blue unveiled its IBM eServer xSeries 430 on Friday, a 64-processor NUMA system built for 32-bit Intel processors. The systems, an outgrowth of the NUMA-Q line IBM acquired 18 months ago when it bought Sequent Computer Systems, support Linux and mainframe applications immediately. They will begin supporting Datacenter Server in the Whistler timeframe. Microsoft currently says its Whistler servers will probably ship in the fourth quarter.

Ian Miller, vice president for marketing of the eServer xSeries, says that over time Windows and Whistler represent the largest single market for the xSeries 430. For now, IBM executives don't think they're missing a major opportunity by not having greater-than-eight-processor hardware available for Windows 2000 Datacenter Server.

"The scalability that Windows has at this point in terms of really growing to a full 32-processor system, there are limitations in how far you can go," Miller says. IBM will point customers to scaling out on their new eight-processor servers, the IBM eServer xSeries 370. "I would argue that the x370, frankly, represents a stronger price-performance message for the Windows Datacenter market than the CMP machine," Miller says.

Analyst Tom Manter with the Aberdeen Group says IBM will have to demonstrate compelling value to compete successfully in the Datacenter market with the x430.

"Today you have a Unisys CMP system, which is being sold by all the major suppliers with the exception of IBM. They have an opportunity to establish a de facto standard. Then IBM is going to have quite a challenge when Whistler server comes out 12 months later to then come into the marketplace with a different architecture," Manter says.

But Manter is in no way writing IBM off: "They've surprised us in the past, too."

Unisys faces challenges of its own in keeping its CMP coalition together. Company executives are already promoting the next generation of the Cellular MultiProcessing architecture to keep partners committed. But companies with their own R&D operations like Compaq and Hewlett-Packard may choose to develop their own architectures. --

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.