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IBM thriving in Wintel workstations

Big Blue says it's making progress in the market for workstations based on Windows and Intel, a sign that yet another IBM business may be prospering.

IBM executives say the company is making progress in the market for workstations based on Windows and Intel, a sign that yet another IBM business may be prospering.

IBM's IntelliStation line of workstations is starting to sell well on Wall Street and in Hollywood, according to a trio of marketing executives, as the total market for workstations running the Windows NT operating systems and Intel chips is growing at a rapid pace.

International Data Corporation (IDC). Windows-Intel workstations are the most powerful computers running the Windows operating system--typically incorporating the fastest Intel Pentium III Xeon processors and brawny graphics subsystems--but they have traditionally lagged behind Unix-based systems.

IBM, which said its NT workstation shipments have zoomed threefold compared to last year, said one of the most notable signs of progress on Wall Street is the fact that the number of installations on "trading floors" at firms such as Dow Jones and Chase Manhattan has jumped from a little over ten different companies when the line was introduced to 50 customers now, according to Jay Barrett, marketing manager for the IBM IntelliStations.

"The service and support is now in place to make migration [to Windows NT ] possible," said Barrett. He claims that in the overall market there is "mass migration" from Unix workstations to those based on NT on Wall Street.

Market figures appear to back this up to some extent. In the third quarter of last year, Windows NT workstation shipments leaped 136 percent over the same period in 1997, according to GartnerGroup Dataquest while Unix workstation shipments increased at a more modest 14.6 percent during the same period.

"In terms of revenue, Unix workstations accounted for 67.4 percent of the worldwide workstation market, but Windows NT workstations have grown at a faster rate," the report added. "Windows NT workstation revenue grew 65.8 percent in the third quarter, as Unix-workstation revenue declined 19.5 percent compared to the same period of 1997."

IBM seems to be most excited about its prospects in Hollywood. "It is incredible to think two years ago [Intel-based workstations ] would even be a player here today vs. Apple and SGI," said Jay Ornellas, marketing manager for digital content creation at the IntelliStation division.

He said that Avid, one of the most prestigious digital content creation firms, is now beginning to emphasize other platforms besides Apple Computer--which Avid built its business on.

"Last year they started to move to Intel," said Ornellas, and he added that now certain Avid products are offered exclusively on IBM IntelliStations.

Indeed, Avid had to recently respond to a Macintosh trade journal report which claimed Avid is abandoning the Macintosh in favor of the Windows-Intel platform. "Please be assured that the Macintosh platform continues to be an important part of our strategy," the company said in a statement to allay Macintosh customers' fears. But it was quick to qualify this by adding: "It has been clear for some time that we are also making investments in Windows NT-based products...Many of our customers have been asking for Windows NT solutions and segments of the market have been moving that way for some time."

Avid is a provider of digital audio and video tools. The company's products are used by a variety of customers worldwide including film, television and interactive content producers, and TV news broadcasters. High profile users include The Tonight Show and Warner Brothers.

Despite all this progress by IBM, it still has an uphill battle with the likes of Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Dell Computer. In the NT workstation market, HP still dominates, according to Dataquest, with Dell coming on strong. For the first time last year, Dell, in the third quarter, became the No. 2 NT workstation vendor, displacing Compaq-Digital, Dataquest said.

IBM garners more market share
But in the overall worldwide market combining Unix and NT in that same period, IBM was No. 3. This includes sales of Big Blue's longstanding RS/6000 Unix workstations which actually can compete for sales with its own NT workstations in some instances. In the overall market, Sun Microsystems is No. 1 and HP No. 2

Interestingly, IBM's RS/6000 technology is now bolstering its NT products. The team that designed high-speed graphics chips for the its Unix computers is now architecting silicon for the newest IntelliStations. Like SGI, IBM prides itself on its graphics subsystems.

IBM's Fire GL1 graphics processors integrate more than a dozen separate chips into one silicon subsystem, said Doug Oathout, a product manager. The company fabricates the processors at its semiconductor facilities and recently said it would begin selling products based on the Fire GL1 to outside customers.

One the most obvious yet still compelling arguments for Windows-Intel workstations continues to be price. IBM can now offer a complete system for under $3,000, approaching the price of high-end multimedia PC.

Intel's Pentium III with its new MMX media instructions is also helping IBM penetrate markets like Hollywood. Ornellas said the Pentium III married with the FireGL graphics chip allows much faster "geometry" processing compared to the Pentium II. He cites improvement of between 15 and 20 percent.