IBM Global Services has been shopping around ISPs in the UK for bandwidth to service a huge server farm planned for Portsmouth or London's South Bank.
The vendor refused to comment officially, but one IBM insider confirmed to PC Week that plans are in the pipeline to build huge Web facilities in Europe to boost capacity for outsourcing.
IBM wants to replicate the scale of the company's enormous US server farms, which were used for hosting the Wimbledon Web site that boasted a record 942 million hits over the fortnight.
Three of the UK's largest ISPs - PSINet, GX networks and UUNet - were all approached by IBM last week.
One ISP said that IBM had been enquiring about the cost of a 34Mbps leased line, which would cost about £500,000.
IBM's bandwidth shopping could affect its relationship with AT&T. In November, AT&T bought IBM Global Network, IBM's private data and communications system, for £3.2 billion.
Both companies made outsourcing commitments at that time: IBM would outsource much of its global networking requirement to AT&T, worth £3.2 billion, while AT&T would outsource much of its data centre activities to IBM, worth £2.4 billion.
Because of those commitments, the three UK ISPs were surprised to be asked to tender for the IBM bandwidth. But one source pointed out that AT&T's coverage in the UK is limited and that the telecoms giant relies on third-party carriers such as PSINet.
"There are no problems with AT&T, but it was never an exclusive deal," said Ian Collins, head of Network Services at IBM Europe.
Last month, IBM announced plans for applications hosting for the small business market, but said it would use its server farms at Portsmouth, Warwick and Dublin.
Early indications are that the new server farm will be used for strategic outsourcing to big business, such as banks.
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