IBM beefs up its midsized computers Powerful AS-400s to debut today

September 07, 1993|By New York Times News Service

IBM is set to introduce more powerful minicomputers today in the company's latest effort to defend its profitable midsized computer business against increasing competition.

The three new models of the IBM AS-400 minicomputer will be up to 80 percent more powerful than the current machines. IBM will also introduce new software and disk storage features to make the AS-400 better able to operate as a "server" -- a central machine feeding and collecting data to and from many workstations linked by a computer network.

The arrangement, known as client-server computing, is the technological support structure for the new style of team-based work that is increasingly popular in Corporate America.

To enhance the AS-400's appeal as a server, IBM also plans to introduce a special model of its Valuepoint personal computer, called a "graphical workstation," which can be a client machine linked to an AS-400, according to analysts who were briefed by IBM last week.

The IBM introductions are part of an effort to thwart the stiffening competition in the midrange computer market, broadly defined as machines that cost from $10,000 to $1 million each. Traditional rivals like Hewlett-Packard, Digital Equipment and NCR now offer minicomputers with the Unix operating system, an industry standard software or "open" system.

New companies like Sequent Computer Systems and Pyramid Technology have entered the mini computer market with machines based on lower-cost microprocessor technology.

Like the rest of the industry, the minicomputer business is inevitably converting to microprocessor-based machines, and the only real question is how quickly the transition will occur. Making the transformation to the microprocessor world is a huge challenge to IBM's minicomputer business, and a real threat to one of the company's few recent bright spots.

The IBM minicomputer business, including related software, storage disks and maintenance fees, generated revenues of more than $13 billion last year and pretax operating profits of more than $2 billion, according to estimates by ADM Consulting Inc., a research firm in Cheshire, Conn.

IBM is also beginning to tell customers of its strategy for moving to new generations of microprocessor technology. Its next-generation minicomputer will have a 64-bit operating system and use the PC Power chips the company is developing with Motorola and Apple Computer.

Some IBM microprocessor-based minicomputers are scheduled to reach the market by next year, with the remainder to be ready by 1995, analysts say. The AS-400, they add, will be able to handle 64 bits at a time without rewriting large amounts of its operating system.

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