Ailing IBM aims for launch boost

AILING computer Goliath IBM made its long-awaited entry into the parallel-processing computing market last week with the worldwide launch of a powerful new general-purpose supercomputer-class machine.

The new system, called the PowerParallel 9076 SP1 is based on the same RISC (reduced-instruction-set computing) processors found at the high end of its RS/6000 range of workstations and servers.

The company also unveiled new products in the RS/6000 series, including a new colour entry-level system and new high-end, high-capacity Network File System (NFS) server.

The SP1 initially ties together eight to 64 processors in a single unit, although IBM is already promising it will eventually be capable of supporting thousands of processors in what is known as a ''massively parallel'' architecture.

Due largely to a lack of commercial application software, the new system aims initially at the engineering and scientific markets.

Early customers have been found in universities, pharmaceutical companies and in weather forecasting.

IBM dismisses suggestions its new parallel machines might cannibalise already lacklustre sales of its high-end mainframe systems, saying the products address different application markets.

The company also plays down the SP1 as a competitor with other parallel architecture systems from companies like Sequent, Pyramid or even AT & T's computing division, NCR.

While other parallel systems had been based on standard personal computer processors from Intel, the use of powerful high-end RISC processors had set the SP1 parallel system apart from others by enabling it to better address number crunching applications, said IBM RS/6000 product manager Mr Lai Yee-chong.

The massive number-crunching ability of multiple processor systems does not, however, make the SP1 an heir-apparent to IBM mainframe architectures.

''It is not intended to be a replacement for the mainframe, which continues to be the best architecture for general-purpose, high capacity data sharing - moving large quantities of data around,'' Mr Lai said.

''You cannot replace such high-capacity data-sharing capabilities by sheer CPU (central processor unit) power. They are completely different things.'' The SP1 runs a ''parallelised'' version of the IBM implementation of the UNIX operating systems, known as AIX/6000.

Most applications now available for the RS/6000 (according to the company there are about 6,500) will run on the SP1.

Conversely, future software developed for the SP1 will be able to run on clusters of RS/6000 systems.

IBM is clearly aiming at the high-end with these systems. Powerful though they might be, they are not cheap - a base system (with eight processors, but without necessary add-ons) is priced at $2.74 million.

The machines will be available in Hongkong in October, but IBM is taking build-to-order specifications now.

Other IBM announcements last week included a new colour local area network (LAN) workstation for the client-server environments. The new low-end RS/6000 M20 incorporates its processing unit into the monitor terminal, saving user desk space.

The Hongkong price of the M20, $46,827, does not appear much to write home about - costing considerably more than competitive models from Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard - although IBM promises steep discounting on volume purchases.

Also launched were three new middle-of-the-range RS/6000 workstations - the PowerStation 355, 365 and 375 - with processors of 42 megahertz (MHz), 50 MHz and 62 MHz - respectively.

Pricing for base configurations of the the machines are $107,659for the model 355 to $207,492 for the model 375.

The machine IBM appears most excited about as a revenue-generator, appears to be the Power Network Dataserver - a high-end, high capacity product that uses Sun Microsystems' Network File System (NFS) architecture.

With NFS, the product is targeted at distributed computing environments, or as a central server/storage facility on a LAN.

Prices for a base configuration of the Dataserver start at $1.6 million.