This week Berlin was the venue for a meeting of the Big Blue faithful - David Carlucci, general manager of IBM?s S/390 Server division addressed over 200 loyal mainframe customers at the Guideshare user group conference.
?You?re the ones who stuck with us, when the S/390 was not a popular place to be,? Carlucci told the audience, who welcomed him enthusiastically.
While a few years ago the idea that the mainframe would be a popular place to be again would have seemed laughable, the resurgence in S/390 sales last year - for IBM especially - appear to confirm the resurgence of the platform.
Last year saw IBM post some of its best ever mainframe sales, with customers buying more than 1,000 of its G5 Server model. Carlucci claimed IBM?s sales figures included more than 350 competitive winbacks from rivals Amdahl and Hitachi Data Systems and also over 100 wins against Hewlett-Packard and Sun in the big server space.
Carlucci announced a new feature at the Berlin conference, Capacity Upgrade on Demand (CUoD), which he claimed will help users cope with the extra and unpredictable demands for capacity imposed by new applications such as ecommerce.
CUoD allows mainframe users to add additional capacity ?at the flick of a switch? by bringing additional unused processors online without having to bring the system down. IBM has been shipping the G5s with unused capacity built in and users only pay licence charges for the processors once they are switched on.
While IBM is pitching CUoD as a major benefit for its customers, it is not in fact the first supplier to offer such a facility. Rival Amdahl has been shipping a similar offering, Dynamic Quickcapacity, with its mainframes since its Millennium 700 range early last year. It also offers a similar feature to allow users to switch in new channels or coupling links on the fly.
So why has IBM launched this facility now?
?Its no secret that you?re going to see a slowdown in system sales because of the Year 2000 problem,? said Rob Schafer, programme director for enterprise data strategies for the Meta Group, ?We?re predicting a bad fourth quarter 1999, first quarter 2000 and IBM and other suppliers are looking at ways of getting round this.?
While the main announcement at Guideshare was CUoD, Carlucci also had another surprise for users, telling them that all functionality of the next generation of mainframe systems, G6, would be made available for the G5.
Phil Payne, of Isham Research, suspects IBM is going to try to beat the Year 2000 ?lockdown? by extending the life of the G5.
?IBM is now talking down the performance improvements it expects to get from the G6 and freezing the functionality,? he said, ?It wants G5 users to upgrade their unused capacity and to do that it needs to convince them it won?t be worth upgrading to the G6 straightaway.?
Needless to say, Carlucci disputes such an analysis. ?G6 is really a headroom announcement, we?re not introducing a new architecture, but for customers who want that higher capacity ceiling, they will want to go to G6. We already have some G5 customers who are operating at maximum capacity now.?
He does, however, readily concede that IBM is targeting its installed base. ?We?re trying to get existing S/390 customers to do more with the platform,? he acknowledged.
Other suppliers are less reticent about the impact of the date change problem.
?We?re coming up to the Year 2000 and people are going to clamp down on their spending,? said John Kindler, S/390 processor marketing manager for Amdahl, ?All the vendors, ourselves included, are trying to encourage sales for this year.?
If sales in 1999 are likely to be less impressive for suppliers than 1998, Schafer also questions just how successful IBM really was last year.
Similar concerns were raised on Wall Street, with IBM seeing its stock price fall this month, despite posting strong fourth quarter earnings. ?Wall Street doesn?t look at market share, it looks at dollars and the dollar figures for S/390 sales were very disappointing,? Schafer said.
Carlucci admits IBM was very ?aggressive? in its pricing policies last year, especially against rival HDS, but argues the main priority was to increase its footprint.
?We?re very focused on being the supplier of choice in the enterprise space,? he said.
The area that IBM is most heavily targeting is ecommerce and the opportunities afforded by the Internet. The S/390?s traditional strengths - scalability, reliability, security - make it an excellent Web server, IBM believes and customers do seem to agree.
Schafer believes the S/390 will eventually prosper after 2000, as customers will not want to lose their investment in the platform.
?Immediately after the date change sales will be risky though, depending on just how bad the Year 2000 problem really is,? he said.
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