IBM is set to consolidate its midrange systems but insists that the RS/6000 and AS/400 brands will live on as individual entities.
The separate sales and marketing divisions for AS/400 and RS/6000, which often competed openly with one another, have been combined with Open Storage, Netfinity PC servers and NT Suite in the new Midrange Systems Sales division, organised by industry sector.
Dr Joseph Reger, an executive consultant for IBM Germany who specialises in midrange servers, said the company is actively seeking to develop more high-level common components, such as memory subsystems.
"It is possible that in two years time we will have two identical machines, sharing the same components, even an identical chassis," said Reger. "It makes sense for us and the customers, because they will be cheaper and easier to make in greater volumes which will reduce their price to the customer. But they will run different operating systems and be bought by different customers for different reasons."
Sales representatives will be incentivised "to sell IBM, not one platform or another," said Buell Duncan, IBM general manager for systems sales in Europe. "Of course, they'll bring in a bit more revenue if they sell a System 390 rather than a PC server, which might bias them."
The consolidation means few job losses and was not designed to reduce employee numbers, said Duncan. Hardware specialists, once fiercely loyal to their respective divisions, have been reassigned to apply their knowledge to providing solutions for customers.
Many IBM resellers already deal with customers from a "solutions standpoint", said Duncan, and IBM's reorganisation of its sales and marketing efforts will help them further.
Although R&D for the AS/400 and RS/6000 remains separate, the machines already share manufacturing resources: both roll off the same production lines at Rochester, New York and Santa Palomba in Italy. And they share some common components, for example the Apache CPU and power supply unit.
But Duncan denied that IBM has any long-term intention to merge the two platforms.
"We have put the sales teams together to eliminate in-fighting, but the RS/6000 and AS/400 brands will continue," he said. "We won't be producing an AS/6000 or an RS/400, this is the natural evolution of two products. There is still an enormous opportunity for sales of OS/400 and Unix platforms over the coming years. It may not be growing as quickly as NT, but in absolute numbers it is much larger."
Aggregating figures from IDC, Dataquest and IBM's internal research, Duncan predicts total global revenue from NT server sales will grow from $2.3 billion in 1995 to $20.3 billion in 2002. Over the same time, total Unix server revenues will grow from $23.8 billion to $35.2 billion, and revenues from mainframe and midrange proprietary servers - such as the AS/400 - will shrink from $38.9 billion to $28.3 billion.
"We are often asked, 'why does IBM have so many servers?' And the simple answer is - because customers buy them," said Duncan.
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