New servers from IBM, Compaq

September 12, 1994|By New York Times News Service

IBM and Compaq Computer Corp. are to announce Monday new computers that they call servers. IBM's six machines offer an alternative to the traditional mainframe, while Compaq's four computers are evidence of the microcomputer's growing role.

Servers are the linchpin of what are known as client-server installations, where computing tasks are split among large and small computers spread across a network, and the server provides the data or programs that the smaller machines work on. The distinctly different approaches of IBM and Compaq nevertheless reflect the increasing importance of the server market.

Depending on the size of the task, a server can be anything from a glorified PC to an IBM mainframe, but many corporations have found client-server computing difficult. Servers based on PC technology need to become more robust and reliable, while the mainframe model needs to be altered to handle many more concurrent users than in the past.

The announcements from IBM and Compaq address the needs of the server market from the top down, in IBM's case, and from the bottom up in Compaq's. IBM does not quote prices, but the new machines are expected to sell in the low hundreds of thousands to the low millions. Compaq's servers will sell for $11,600 to $50,000.

The six IBM Entry Server Offerings, as they are called, are additions to the line of mainframe-like machines the company first announced in April. These are based on new generations of chips called CMOS (for Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) microprocessors, and the machines use from one to six processors.

The chips benefit from the same low-cost, low-energy-consumption technology that has driven down prices and lifted performance of personal computers.

Nicholas M. Donofrio, IBM's general manager of large-scale computing,said the initial target customers would be owners of older IBM mainframes, and the company hopes to convert a fourth to a third of this group to the new hardware. "We want to give our customers some more freedom, some more capability, without switching" from the IBM mainframe, he said.

IBM's competition is likely to be less from compatible mainframe manufacturers, like Hitachi or Amdahl, than from makers of high-powered servers, like Hewlett-Packard Co. and Silicon Graphics Inc., he said.

Bob Djurdjevic, president of Annex Research, a market research firm based in Phoenix, Ariz., said the new machines would be up to the task from a technology viewpoint. "The challenge for IBM is a marketing challenge, to detach the name 'mainframe' from these products," he said.

No such challenge exists for Compaq, which blasted past IBM and Apple Computer Inc. this year to become the largest seller of personal computers.

Compaq's new servers, like personal computers, are based on Intel Corp.'s microprocessors, but employ more robust internal circuitry, multiple "redundant" power supplies, and special memory-management technology to better withstand the demands of multiple users. The machines can use up to four Pentiums, Intel's most powerful microprocessor.

Compaq said it had collaborated with Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. to better integrate their software with the new machines.

"We have a real orientation to the high end, specifically addressing the database market," said Mary McDowell, Compaq's director of systems products. "We partnered with Oracle and Microsoft to really integrate the operating system and the database software, so that when you put all the pieces together, you have a reliable system."

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