IBM Corp’s Advanced Workstations & Systems Division, the company’s increasingly pivotal RISC systems unit, is smack in the middle of two internal joint ventures that together with Workstations could be the remaking of IBM, given enough time. Last week Advanced Workstations let out that it had clasped hands with IBM’s once-proud flagship, its now-sullied mainframe […]
IBM Corp’s Advanced Workstations & Systems Division, the company’s increasingly pivotal RISC systems unit, is smack in the middle of two internal joint ventures that together with Workstations could be the remaking of IBM, given enough time. Last week Advanced Workstations let out that it had clasped hands with IBM’s once-proud flagship, its now-sullied mainframe operation Enterprise Systems, in setting up a co-funded unit to develop scalable mainframe-class multiprocessor RS/6000 RISC-based machines such as the SP1 Power Parallel system that the company showed off last Tuesday. However, before that, in December, Workstations announced internally that it had cut a similar deal with IBM’s Entry Systems Technology Group to set up a Personal RISC Systems joint venture to design, build and market all of the company’s PowerPC-based goods as well as such items as the X terminals and personal computer-priced M20 baby RS/6000s introduced last week. Maybe even hand-held devices.
Both initiatives, to be run as profit centres, are the work of Advanced Workstations president Bill Filip and his peers. They are not imposed from above by the Armonkey House, nor was the consent of the top floor or the company’s famed Executive Committee apparently even sought. Strategy for Personal RISC Systems began to be laid two years ago, according to Filip, who consulted with personal computer chief Jim Cannavino and cut the deal with Nobi Mii, head of the Entry Systems Technology Group. Willie Shih, who heads development of workstations at Advanced Workstations’ main Austin, Texas facility, has been named to run the unit, which will apparently he headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, home to IBM’s personal computer operation, although most of the manufacturing has migrated to Austin and to Research Triangle Park, North Carolina these days. Filip, Mii, assistant general manager Lee Reiswig and IBM’s research vice-president Jim McGroddy are on the venture’s board, Filip said. Other executives may become involved. This entry-level operation will be responsible for putting AIX Lite, OS/2, Hunter Systems Inc’s XDOS and a Macintosh emulator on the M20 later this year, Filip said, the last being a move still capable of producing a chill in competitors like Sun Microsystems Inc. Meanwhile at the high end, there is the new Power Parallel Systems joint venture with Filip’s predecessor at Advanced Workstations, Enterprise Systems chief Nick Donofrio, as chairman and Filip and McGroddy on the board.
By Maureen O’Gara
The organisation is being run full-time by general manager Irving Wladawsky-Berger, formerly Enterprise Systems’ assistant general manager of supercomputing, and part-time by Advanced Workstations systems and technology vice-president Phil Hester (CI No 2,100). The unit is intended to revivify IBM’s large systems with RISC technology and as such, its charter includes developing 390-based offerings like AIX/ESA and 390 supercomputing market development. (Considering all the cries for a more revolutionary approach, it does sound a lot like the same old thing, doesn’t it?) The business will be involved in supercomputing application management, supercomputing strategies, systems development, software development, services and support. System development will incorporate the work of IBM’s Highly Parallel Supercomputing Systems Lab, RISC-based mainframe and workstation technology development. Filip said the Personal RISC unit would focus on implementing the single-chip PowerPC 601, 602, 603 and its architecture. (One of Florida’s daily papers, however, quoting the internal memo suggested the venture would also move its stuff to Intel Corp’s forthcoming Pentium). Power Parallel, on the other hand, will content itself with multi-chip versions of the current RS/6000 chip Rios, Filip said. In some cases these Rios 2 chips will overlap the PowerPC in performance while others should outperform it 50% to 100% at the same clock speeds thanks to superscalar technology. McGroddy is also kicking some financial resources into Power Parallel an
d will help with chip design, high-speed switching and parallel compilers.
In between these two new efforts sits Filip’s Advanced Workstations & Systems which has, he notes, taken unto itself over the past year all the ingredients needed to be a stand-alone company bar a dedicated sales force. The sales force is a problem they’ve been working on for awhile and one they could be in a position to snap off in a few months. Advanced Workstations will focus on workstations and servers, uniprocessors and symmetric multiprocessing configurations as well as clusters and parallel machines with distributed and shared memory. It will continue working on Power 4, a special four-way RS/6000 with both distributed and global memory, which was announced in December, but remains a Request Price Quotation or RPQ special. Memo to IBM’s next chief executive: sweep away all those ridiculous acronyms such as PRPQ and SOD all those Statements of Direction, which have of late amounted to nothing more than hot air sice they have subsequently been withdrawn, and their underlying concepts – if as an incomer familiar with the computer in-dustry, you find anything of that kind that has to be explained to you, get rid of it.