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IBM pushes ahead with new server architecture

IBM is paving the way for its next-generation Unix software and for major changes to its server computer architecture.

IBM is paving the way for its next-generation Unix software and for major changes to its server computer architecture.

Since completing the acquisition of Sequent on Sept. 24, Big Blue has ramped up marketing and research efforts around Sequent's server technology.

The first fruits are due next month when IBM opens its fifth Teraplex Integration Center, this one to showcase Sequent's non-uniform memory architecture (NUMA).

IBM is touting the integration center's importance for furthering the adoption of Sequent's NUMA-Q server line, but analysts contend it is a strategic operation for driving new technologies to market.

"IBM is preparing to roll out NUMA technologies to their entire server product line," Technology Business Research analyst Joe Ferlazzo said. "What they're starting to do is bring NUMA solutions to market, and they want people to come in and test it."

Big Blue is betting NUMA's scalable architecture, which currently supports up to 64 Intel processors with planned 256-processor support, will breathe new life into existing products, particularly RS/6000, AS/400 and S/390 computers.

The NUMA architecture allows manufacturers to take advantage of far more processors than current Intel-based servers.

Although technically elegant, the NUMA systems haven't met with a critical mass of sales. Until now, the largest Intel server makers have not adopted it.

IBM's marketing and technical prowess could change that.

The integration center will allow customers to test the waters before the next big technological shift in the winds. The introduction of Monterey is slated for sometime next year.

Monterey, a next-generation of Unix developed by IBM, Sequent and SCO, is expected to be the high volume Unix on Intel's IA-64 processor architecture, drawing in part from SCO's large install base.

"What IBM did was purchase the (NUMA) technology for Monterey, so that it could be scalable on the software side of it," Ferlazzo said. "Now they have to be able to make the systems that will run it, and they have to prove this to the market."

The integration center will serve to prove its concept, as IBM prepares customers for the appearance of NUMA on other server lines. NUMA on Netfinity, for example, could be big for IBM and its customers, following the release of 64-bit Windows 2000 next year.

Netfinity then could emerge as a volume platform supporting Monterey and Windows partitioned on the same server, allowing IBM to better support and scale applications in mixed environments.

Initially, IBM will use the integration center to introduce customers to NUMA-Q, and there it will focus on "business intelligence."

Business intelligence is an industry term for tools used by businesses to analyze massive amounts of information stored on databases. The tools are most frequently used by large business-to-consumer operations, such as retailers, insurance companies or telcos.

Aslam Khader, IBM's senior manager for NUMA-Q, estimates about 25 percent of NUMA-Q sales are for business intelligence.

NUMA-Q's business intelligence growth rate is about 40 percent, and Khader expects it to account for about 30 percent of the server line's business by early next year.

"We expect to grow this part of our business even faster now that we're part of IBM," Khader said.

Big Blue last week committed to spend about $30 million to promote business intelligence products and solutions.

IBM's hardware cost for setting up the NUMA-Q Teraplex Integration Center, located in Beaverton, Ore., was between $5 million and $10 million, Khader said.

Customers will be able to use the facility for testing applications as they expand to multiple terabytes of storage.