Taking aim at the growing Internet infrastructure business, IBM introduced
three new models - 4500R, 6000R and 5100 - to its Netfinity line of Intel-based
servers. These new "R" servers complement their current rackmount offerings,
the Netfinity 4500R and 8500R.
officials said the 4500R is aimed at ISPs (Internet service providers)
and ASPs (application service providers), while the 6000R is intended
for companies looking to operate mission-critical applications such as
ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software. The 5100 is targeted at small
to midsize businesses with remote locations.
4500R is 3U high (three "rack units", 1U = 1.75"), can take up to two
processors, and will be priced around $3700 for a base unit with one CPU,
128MB of RAM, and no hard drive nor OS. The 6000R is a 4U-high, four-CPU
system that should sell for under $7000 for a basic model with one CPU,
512MB of RAM, and no hard drive nor OS.
5100, a pedestal/mini-tower model, is similar to the 4500R, with two processors
and up to 4GB of memory. It is priced at under $3,000 for a base configuration.
We are sincerely glad to see that IBM finally seems to have gotten the
message of "smaller is better" when it comes to rackmount servers. Until
very recently, IBM's rackable servers had typically been at least 1U,
and sometimes more, taller than the competition from Compaq and Dell.
A 4U, four-CPU system is now commonplace, and HP has recently started
shipping their 4U system capable of taking six CPUs, but at least IBM
is back in the game.
to this the Netfinity 4000R, the first 1U, two CPU server from one of
the Big Four Intel-based server vendors, and we believe IBM is on the
verge of turning things around for the Netfinity. Although we still are
unsure whether a 3U, two-CPU system (the 4500R) is what the market wants
- even with hot-swap drives - denser offerings are now becoming a trend
for Netfinity, rather than the exception.
IBM sticks to its preliminary price figure (under $7000 for a 6000R with
a single CPU, 512 MB of RAM, no hard drives), it will find itself very
competitive with Dell - a similarly-configured PowerEdge 6450 is currently
priced $200-$300 higher than the 6000R. The Netfinity 6000R does even
better against Compaq's 6400R - $1500-$2000 better. The only caveat here
is that IBM's pricing sometimes creeps up a little between announcement
and shipment. (For example, the Netfinity 4000R was announced below $4000
and actually debuted higher.) Assuming the 6000R stays at $7000 for a
bare-bones system, IBM will have taken a major step toward shedding its
"solid but expensive" image.
IBM still has a lot of market-share ground to make up on Dell and Compaq.
Leveraging its reputation for delivering highly reliable systems should
help them to some extent. High reliability is often a key sales point
for Internet infrastructure companies, which is where IBM is now concentrating.
The next step for Netfinity is to refine/fix its product delivery model
to be more "Dell-like". This will be tougher than changing their design
styles - after all, putting ten pounds of stuff into a five-pound bag
is easy compared to fighting internal politics and getting everyone charging
in the same direction. (Compaq is an object lesson here.)
focus on IBM does not mean that Compaq and Dell should be overlooked.
Each has its strengths and weaknesses, as does IBM. However, we believe
IBM stands a good chance of regaining some lost market share.
Assuming IBM gets its pricing in line with the rest of the players, users
desiring reliable, high-performance servers without sacrificing density
should look seriously at the new Netfinity products. Although some users
may have a need for only one of the models, there will be many who can
use all three models in multiple locations within their business.
Despite the PR information talking about the 6000R being used for database
and ERP applications, these servers should not be aimed at the back office
of very large data centers - they are not "beefy" enough to handle something
like a large Oracle 8i database. Very large data centers are better suited
to the Unix market, where IBM's RS/6000 series is putting out some serious
performance figures. (IBM will also try to sell you an S/390 for data
centers, but that's a different discussion.)
An added benefit is Netfinity's support for Linux and SCO-Unix. As enterprise
Linux grows in robustness, this will become an increasingly popular choice
for Netfinity customers. Customers still debating whether to go with NT/Win2000
or Linux will appreciate IBM's support for all three OSes.