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IBM Offers Pizzazz to Appliance Server Market.

By William Fellows & Timothy Prickett Morgan

IBM Corp will use a September makeover of its RS/6000 server line to climb aboard the market for dedicated appliance servers which Merrill Lunch & Co estimates could be worth $16bn by 2002. It's got a low-cost, skinny server in hand which it will peddle as a rack n' stack system for ISPs and other service providers, including the new breed of application rental shops.

Although final packaging has not yet been determined, the server is likely to include a minimum of the classic set of Apache web, proxy, and security servers running on AIX initially, and subsequently on Linux for PowerPC too. It's expected to be available in September and will feature in a new product license program targeted at ISPs.

Also introduced under what IBM calls the Pizzazz program will be point products that address application-specific requirements which are usually touted as email, web serving or database hosting. Whether IBM will leverage technology from last week's acquisition of small business server company Whistle Communications for use on RS/6000s isn't clear, but there appears to be a company-wide endorsement of appliance servers.

IBM will be competing against other major vendors just getting into the appliance server market, including Compaq Computer with its Web Brick server and Sun Microsystems with its as-yet unannounced Flapjack servers. Network Appliance and Auspex System already sell a range of dedicated filer systems, Mirapoint offers an email appliance, while Cobalt Networks and Encanto play in the small business and home office market in which Whistle also operates. Observers suggest that the thin server market looks as if it will take off much faster than the thin client market. Network Appliance, for instance, got about 90% of its revenues ISPs and only 10% from corporate accounts last year. This year, the split will be 50%-50%, and in a few years the company expects to be generating 80% of its money from corporate customers who want a thin server rather than a full-blown RISC-Unix box.

The IBM server will use a 32-bit PowerPC processor and have a reasonable amount of memory and disk capacity and a few PCI slots for connectivity. Odds are, IBM will use either the current 375MHz PowerPC 604e chip that is used in its smallest RS/6000 workstation, the 43P model 150. Of course, IBM could instead use the PowerPC 750 processor it sells to Apple. The PowerPC 750 uses IBM's 0.2 micron CMOS-7S copper technology - a good marketing point - and ranges in clock speed from 300MHz to 466MHz. One thing is for certain: at least for this generation of thin servers, IBM has decided that it will not use the Northstar/Pulsar or Power3 lines of 64-bit PowerPC processors, which each probably cost more for IBM to make than the price at which it can honestly expect to sell a Pizzazz thin server.

IBM says the server will run the standard AIX, but plans to add new functions to support service providers. Different AIX personalities may end up being supplied on point products for specific applications. Merrill Lynch & Co figures the RS/6000 is worth some $3.1bn last year. The business is reckoned to have declined 10% in the first quarter.
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Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 14, 1999
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