Mon, 30 Oct 2000

Big Blue rebrands its server lineup for e-biz

By Zatni Arbi

JAKARTA (JP): I still remember my early years in writing IT articles for The Jakarta Post. I had no clear idea what a server was, let alone a midrange server, an AS/400, an RS/6000, a Digital Alpha, a Tandem or a Stratus. All I knew was a PC with a 386, 486 or the Pentium processor. So, when I was first invited by IBM to the launch of their new AS/400 machines, I thought I was on a different planet.

Looking back, it might have been because of the fact that servers did not play such a crucial role as they do now. And that was also because the amount of data was not as staggering it is today.

The Internet was just beginning to become available to the public then. Another reason must have been that, at that time, an Intel processor did not really have the power to run a server and PC technology was still too wobbly to provide the functionalities of a server. Some Intel-based PCs were beginning to be used as file servers, others as print servers, but Intel-based application servers were not widely known then.

Over the years, we saw more and more dedicated uses of servers. As e-commerce and e-business began to pick up momentum in 1997, demands for machines that could run nonstop suddenly exploded.

Since then, data that applications such as Customer Relationship Management, Web hosting as well as audio and video streaming are creating has also grown exponentially. Server machines are needed, because they can continue to run even when one of their components -- such as the hard disk, the power supply and the network interface card (NIC) -- breaks down and has to be replaced. They are required because they can continue to work when new hard disks are being added.

Today, people talk about scalability, reliability, and, most importantly, 99.99 percent availability when they talk about servers.

According to IDC's IT Forecaster, Oct. 24, 2000, four vendors have been dominating the server market. These are IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystem. IBM has been losing a chunk of its market share, however.

While in 1997 its share was 26 percent of the worldwide server market, in 1999 it declined slightly to 23 percent. On the other hand, during the same period Compaq's share grew from 7 percent to 15 percent, HP's from 11 percent to 14 percent and Sun's from 8 percent to 13 percent.

The market share of all the smaller server vendors dropped from 48 percent in 1997 to 35 percent in 1999. I guess one has to look more closely at Compaq's share, however, because both Tandem and Digital brought in their own shares of the server market when they were acquired by this company.

Servers on the range

Not all servers are the same, of course. Basically, the industry tends to place machines with Intel processors at the lowest level. When they mention an entry-level server, it would in most likelihood mean an Intel-based server.

However, this can be very misleading. As Intel processors have become very powerful and a number of them can be used in a 4-way, 8-way or even 64-way configurations, Intel-based servers can be very powerful. The mainframe technologies that the vendors implement in these servers have also matched those found in the high-end servers. So, today, you shouldn't be surprised to learn that all the servers used by your favorite news portal are Intel- based.

But there is still markets for more powerful servers, such as the midrange AS/400 and the Compaq Alpha servers. For even more demands, IBM, for example, still offers the RS/6000. And there are still the mainframe computers that not everybody can buy.

Would you know how much these servers cost in general? According to IDC's classifications, the entry-level servers can range in price from US$8,000 to $99,000. Actually, you can get an entry-level, Intel-based Netfinity server for under $1,000. The mid-range servers, still according to IDC, will carry price tags between $100,000 and $999,000. The high-end server will cost $1 million and up.

Now that the Y2K festival is over, IDC expects that the sales of servers, particularly low-end ones, will resume its climb. One of the reasons is, of course, the explosion of dot-coms all over the world.

Rebranding at IBM

From October, you will no longer hear names like Netfinity, AS/400 and RS/6000 spoken at IBM, although they may still be available in the near future. As a result of a three-year effort called Project Mach 1, IBM has revamped its server lineups and rebranded them "eServers". The objective of the project was to come up with optimal server solutions for electronic business. That was the reason for the addition of the "e" in new trademarks, which is the logo of the company's e-business initiative.

However, it also turned out that this choice of name might be more than just a little problematic. Another company, Technauts, had already been using eServer for the name of its software and hardware products.

Technauts has reportedly informed Big Blue that it intends to protect its right to the name eServer. Now, whether IBM and Technauts will settle out of court or whether IBM can convince the court that the use of the e-business logo distinguishes its eServer from Technaut's eServer, remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, there are several interesting and important things about the new server lineups.

First, They do not actually replace the existing server offerings, they just update what has been available. Second, the eServers come in several different series. All the Intel-based servers, including the low-end Netfinity servers and the NUMA-Q come under the name xSeries.

The mid-range servers, which comprises the AS/400 models, which are very popular in the banking and financial industry, are now called the iSeries. The more powerful RS/6000 is now called the pSeries, while the high-end server from IBM, the S/390, is now called the zSeries. Clearly, with this rebranding IBM wants to reestablish its position in the server market by making its product lines easier for its customers to understand.

Third, all the new servers now support Linux. While the xSeries may run Linux in its native mode, the other server lines may be able to host Linux through its operating systems. In this regard, the zSeries runs zOS while the pSeries still runs AIX and the iSeries still uses OS/400.

Fourth, following the latest trend in software pricing in which users will have to pay based on usage, IBM is no longer requiring its high-end server customers to pay for all the software based on the machine's capacity. Instead, these server customers will have to pay what they use, and this helps a lot in e-business where traffic may not be constant.

In the weeks leading to Christmas, for example, traffic to B2C sites such as may be extremely busy as people try to find the right gifts for their loved ones. Similarly, during riots and natural disasters, traffic to breaking news portals will usually jump. A charging plan based on the average workload will work well in these situations.

At any rate, from now on, when you call Big Blue to inquire about a Netfinity that you want to add to your network, ask for the eServer xSeries instead. As long as nothing serious comes out of the dispute between IBM and Technauts, that is. (