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IBM to Supersize its Mainframe Power

By Clint Boulton (Send Email)
Posted Jul 21, 2005


UPDATED: IBM plans to announce a significant strategic move in its server and storage systems group next Tuesday, internetnews.com has learned. UPDATED: Big Blue appears ready to give the world a peek at its new mainframe. Are a converged Power server and storage virtualization deal on tap?

The company has been hush hush about the news, which has been the subject of speculation and rumors for the past month since IBM began sending out invites to the New York City event.

But one analyst says IBM is set to unveil a new zSeries 990 mainframe, boasting 30 to 40 percent more power at the processor level than the original system, dubbed T-Rex.

"It will be more than that in terms of the overall system capacity because they're going to have a lot more engines [or CPUs] available," Gartner analyst Mike Chuba told internetnews.com. "Right now it tops out at 32. They're going to go past 32 so the overall system capacity will be more than 30 to 40 percent."

Chuba said it's a piece of the puzzle that explains why IBM's second-quarter mainframe results dipped 24 percent year-over-year.

"A lot of their large users knew it was in the pipeline and held off [buying] to wait for the latest product," Chuba said.

IBM has been trying to find new ways to boost its mainframe revenues, recently increasing the university participants in its academic booster program for its Big Iron offering.

IBM will announce its news at the W Hotel in Manhattan, returning to the site of its Power Everywhere chip architecture play in March 2004.

Top executives from the company, including Executive Vice President Nicholas Donofrio, Senior Vice President Bill Zeitler, zSeries General Manager Erich Clementi, Linux GM Jim Stallings, Tivoli GM Al Zollar and xSeries GM Susan Whitney, are expected to participate.

Chuba said he expected additional announcements. One analyst with knowledge of the event was vague.

"There are a number of things being announced that week; some of it will likely be storage related," said the analyst, who asked not to be named.

In other news, IBM has folded its forward-looking computing unit, internally known as Quasar, into its systems and technology group, according to the Think Secret Web site.

The idea is that the company is getting ready to advance its Project ECLipz, which includes a converged server based on the Armonk, N.Y., company's Power6 chip architecture. The acronym suggests a merger of the company's i, p and z series systems.

Power has not yet been applied to the zSeries mainframe, so the indication that IBM is ready to announce it on the mainframe is significant, said Summit Strategies analyst Joe Clabby.

The idea is that Power6 will light the way for a single chip architecture to represent the best capabilities from Big Blue's disparate server lines.

According to a research note by The 451 analyst William Fellows, ECLipz will be able to harness the power of a 32-way system in a smaller form factor.

"ECLipz will provide the vertical integration of nodes or blades using InfiniBand or gigabit Ethernet, as well as horizontal integration between racks and nodes," Fellows wrote in a research note.

The event may only be a glimpse of the future: Power6 isn't scheduled to appear until 2006 or 2007. In the meantime, IBM just launched its first dual-core Power chip, the 970MP.

The company is expected to announce servers based on the dual-core architecture, which provides some performance improvements without raising power consumption, soon.

IBM could also soon be making a storage virtualization announcement, although the company denies this.

Sources told internetnews.com IBM has been sniffing around a start-up called Incipient, which makes storage virtualization software that helps "companies more efficiently manage, move and protect their data."

But this rumor was shot down.

IBM spokeswoman Lisa Lanspery denied the news has anything to do with Incipient, saying that she'd never heard of the company. Robert Infantino, senior vice president at Incipient, also denied such a deal was in place and said his company doesn't discuss its OEM partners.

If Big Blue were to partner with Incipient in an original equipment manufacturer's deal, it could sell the company's startup in its own products. IBM could also buy the Waltham, Mass., company outright to fortify its position in the storage virtualization market against rivals like EMC and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), the source said under condition of anonymity.

IBM already makes the San Volume Controller and San File System virtualization software. Incipient's software, designed to run on switches from vendors such as Brocade Communications Systems and Cisco Systems, provides storage services similar to the functions of SVC: Managing volumes of data and replicating them.

It's possible IBM is looking to boost the scalability of SVC by leveraging Incipient's software. It's also possible IBM just wants to make it harder for EMC to sell its new Invista virtualization software, as well as put a crimp in the sales of HDS' TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform (USP).

Whether the major theme is server- or storage-centric, July is a big month for IBM news events. Last July, it unveiled its Power5 Unix servers. The company went on to fill out its Power5 portfolio from the high-end down to the midrange and entry-level systems.

Pund-IT analyst Charles King said IBM usually uses such to-dos to outline company strategy, pointing to the Power Everywhere event.

"This is the first one of these the systems and technology group has held since then," said King, who plans to attend the event. "I would expect some sort of flag in the sand."

IBM enjoyed a fine second quarter in terms of sales, with earnings ascending 10.9 percent to $1.12 a share, beating analysts' estimates by nine cents.

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