IBM launches new mainframe amid re-branding effort

IBM Corp. launched its first 64-bit mainframe computer amid a sweeping server re-branding effort aimed at giving users a more integrated view of the company’s multiple hardware and operating system technologies.

Under the new campaign, all IBM servers will now be sold under the same common brand name of “eServer,” with different model names separating the various IBM server platforms.

IBM’s S/390 mainframes for instance, including the one announced Tuesday, will now be known simply as the Z Series eServer line, while the RS/6000 Unix family has been rebranded as the P Series eServer. Similarly, the midrange AS/400 server is being called the I Series, while IBM’s Intel Corp. servers will be known as the X Series.

The integrated branding campaign is part of a continuing IBM strategy to pull together all of IBM’s different server groups under one common technology, development, marketing and sales effort, said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, general manager of IBM’s Internet division.

The goal is “to leverage technology in a common way across all the platforms,” he said.

IBM’s move comes at a crucial time for the company, said Sam Albert, an independent consultant in Scarsdale, N.Y. Rivals such as Sun Microsystems Inc. have been able to grow faster because their focus on a single line of products has allowed them to communicate better with users. In contrast, the complexity of IBM’s server lines has tended to confuse users, Albert added.

“What IBM is trying to do is simplify the communication,” of its technology strengths, Albert said.

Meanwhile, IBM’s new mainframe – christened the Z900 – should offer users substantially better performance and more application management capabilities than its current Generation 6 mainframes, he said.

The 16-processor Z900 is based on IBM’s first 64-bit mainframe chips and delivers around 2500 MIPS of performance. The servers are also capable of dynamically shifting workloads and the network according to priorities set by administrators. Resources, such as additional processors, can quickly be shifted from one application workload to another depending on requirements.

Such capabilities are crucial for handling the unpredictable transaction loads of Internet applications, according to IBM.

The new servers also support a feature that allow users to carve out virtually thousands of “virtual servers” within one physical server, or partitions within a server.

“It means I can have gobs of Linux servers running within one partition,” said Bill O’Donnell, a senior information technology consultant with the state of Wisconsin in Madison.

One of the most crucial aspects of the new server, which IBM is pushing as the ultimate e-commerce engine, is its support for new software-pricing models.

The servers will let users tie application workloads to specific processors or sets of processors in a way that is verifiable and measurable by both users and software vendors.

This should make it possible for software vendors to charge for their software based on the portion of the mainframe it is running on, rather than on the capacity of the whole system, which is the practice today.

“It’s been a big issue for a long time … It’ll be real interesting to see what this means to us in physical dollars,” O’Donnell said.

If software vendors accept the usage-monitoring technology – and IBM’s proposed pricing changes – the new servers could pave the way for much lower usage-based pricing models, analysts said.

According to IBM, leading software vendors such as BMC Software Inc., Computer Associates International Inc. and Compuware Inc., have agreed to support the new software licensing capabilities on the Z900. In addition, several vendors of customer-relationship management software and enterprise-resource planning applications, such as PeopleSoft Inc., SAP AG and Siebel Systems Inc., have committed to bringing out versions of their software optimized for the 64-bit Z900 server, IBM said.