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IBM boasts of mainframe sales

Big Blue has sold 200 of its new z800 mainframes since they went on sale, citing the figure as evidence that rival Sun is failing to lure customers.

IBM has sold 200 of its new lower-end z800 mainframes in the two months since they went on sale, citing the figure as evidence that rival Sun Microsystems is failing to lure customers to its own products.

Selling 200 of the systems in that period of time is an accomplishment, particularly given that many in the computing industry had been writing obituaries for the mainframe. But the pressure on mainframes is fiercer than ever as Unix servers from Hewlett-Packard, Sun and even IBM acquire mainframe abilities and a dour economy spurs no-holds-barred competition.

"Given that server sales took a hit during the first quarter of 2002, I'd say IBM is doing quite well with the z800 at this point," said Giga Information Group analyst David Mastrobattista. If IBM could increase its 300-per-quarter sales rate to the range of 400 to 600, "then I'd categorize the z800 as a raging success."

Sun has been most vocal in its mainframe assault: Last month it launched its "Blue-Away" project to convert mainframe customers.

IBM's z800 "Raptor" mainframe is inexpensive by mainframe standards but still is not cheap. A version running Linux only has a starting cost of about $350,000, including three years of support; a version running a limited-ability version of IBM's z/OS mainframe operating system costs about $375,000, with three years of support. Customers typically have been buying somewhat more expensive z800s at about $500,000, IBM said.

Sun is attacking on the basis of price. An eight-processor Sun Fire V880 has the same performance as a four-processor z800 and costs $100,000, compared to $2 million for the mainframe.

Mastrobattista is skeptical of Sun's claims. "The anchoring the low- to mid-range mainframe space very solidly. I don't see a lot of defection to Sun going on in that space," he said.

The 200th z800 was sold to Russell, which makes team uniforms and other clothing. Its z800 will process as many as 1.8 million transactions per day running the company's product-distribution and customer-service operations.

Another z800 customer is Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a North Dakota collective that oversees power distribution to customers in nine states.