IBM AIX LAUNCH - MORE WAFFLE THAN HARD FACTS

by CBR Staff Writer| 18 October 1996

Unconvincingly billing the announcement as the division's most important workgroup server announcement since the RS/6000 was launched, IBM Corp last week unveiled the anticipated new models in its AIX line, plus technical models using the new single-chip Power2 Super Chip. Essentially it has upgraded its PCI bus line of workstations and servers with higher clock versions of PowerPC 604e. There are now five versions of the 43P workstation: the new Model 140 sports either a 166MHz or 200MHz part and up to 768Mb memory while a symmetric multiprocessing Model 240 comes with one or two 166MHz parts (CI No 3,015). They cost from $7,000 and $10,000 respectively - the two-way starts at around $20,000. A server implementation of the 166MHz 604e a ppears as the two-way Model F40, which sits above the existing F30. It costs from $16,000 with up to 1Gb memory, 82Gb disk, PCI or AT bus adapters, 22 bays and nine expansion slots. Rackmount versions are available as the Model H10 - IBM's first PCI rackmounts with up to 1Gb memory, 54Gb disk and nine AT+PCI slots. There is also a 166MHz 603e version of the ex-Power Personal unit's notebook as the Model 860 with a 12 thin film transistor screen, 32Mb to 96Mb memory, and up to 2Gb disk which costs from a wallet-bending $13,000. Previous 820 and 850 models used 100MHz parts. The 604e upgrades for existing servers start at $2,000 - $1,500 on the workstations. New PCI graphics adapters include the GXT800P for mid- to high-end three-dimensional graphics at $8,500 - or $10,500 with a texture option - and the GXT500P/55P for mid-range three-dimensional processing.

Badly communicated strategy

The new PCI bus systems run AIX 4.1.5. The PCI bus boxes, the 43P 100, 120, 133, 140 and 240 plus E20, E30, F30 and F40 servers also run Windows NT. All models are out next month. The new systems are being swept to market on new general manager Mark Bregman's policy of promoting RS/6000s as customer and industry-specific solutions rather than technology products. The strategy may be a sound one in IBM's mind, but so far it's been badly communicated and in any case has yet to be implemented. The problem is that by removing the emphasis on the technology - and let's not forget the line still uses two incompatible chip sets, two bus architectures, and that Unix is still predominantly a technology-driven affair - IBM effectively eliminates one of the key arguments for maintaining distinct RS/6000 and AS/400 product lines. AS/400's argument has always been that the AS/400 is a solution - RS/6000 a technology choice. De-emphasizing the technology in product introductions - a policy implemented across IBM divisions - also makes it more difficult to understand just what the company is actually trying to sell, and customers that are on the ball always pay close attention to the technology. If a machine using a proprietary processor being made in hundreds or thousands is priced to compete with a Pentium Pro machine, you know the vendor of the former will have little margin left over for important things like customer support. But now from IBM we get an inch thick stack of paper full of waffle rather than facts. The fact that IBM is attempting to broaden the scope of its applications base with additional technology and operating system configurations gets lost in the generally confusing message about what RS/6000 is thes e days. Meantime, the much-needed RS/6000 re-naming and brand-building exercise - including details of ex-AIX boss Donna Van Fleet's business solutions group - still haven't made it to public view even though the whole strategy was handed down inter nally over 90 days ago. Bregman says that he sent his people back to the drawing board after he still couldn't make head or tail of the model names and numbers they came up with in their first pass at solving the problem.

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