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September 23, 1990

AMDAHL SETS THE STANDARD WITH THE FIRST $32M BEAST IN THE IBM MAINFRAME WORLD

By CBR Staff Writer

Amdahl Corp, due to celebrate its 20th anniversary next month, has been expanding on the 5995M Series mainframe announcements it made last week. Doug Smith, managing director of Amdahl (UK) Ltd, describes the top-end machines as superlative, and says that five years and $500m have gone into their development. Manufacturing facilities are being geared up for the next phase, and that investment alone will cost a further $170m, with the Irish plant in Dublin that serves the European market intended to double in size. The company reckons that it now commands a 13% share of the European market for mainframe installations over 25 MIPS, although IBM still dominates with a massive 80%.

13 YEARS

It is 13 years since Amdahl shipped its first processor in the the UK, and while the UK is not growing as fast as the rest of Europe, the company claims a 25% share compared to Hitachi Data Systems’ 3%, and Comparex Informationssystemes’ 2%. The rest is IBM territory. Amdahl is very keen to emphasise that the 5995 M series is a homegrown product range and definitely not a repackaging of Fujitsu’s recently announced M-1800. It comprises 10 models, six of which are repositioned 5990s with no extra performance, and all 5990s now belong to the A series which means Multiple Domain Feature included as standard and Escon fibre optic channel support across the range. The M models 4550M, 6650M and 8650M – have an impressive 7nS cycle time, and the 4550 is claimed to offer up to 1.6 times the performance of a 5990-1400. The 3550 is being touted as having 0.8 times the performance of the 4550M, the 6650 has 1.4 times, and the 8650 has 1.8 times the 4550. Amdahl says that the eight-way processor executes up to 350 MIPS, and the chips have 15,000 logic gates with a switching speed between 75pS and 80pS. The CPU board measures 9.4 by 9.4 and combines 144 logic chips and 52 layers of circuitry. Amdahl says that the benefits of the eight-way processor will become more evident as the trend towards consolidation of data centres escalates, and it also foresees the use of Multiple Domain Feature to partition the 8650M into a six-plus-two configuration, or two fours. The machines take up to 512 channels, and the company claims that the channels are necessary to provide security for partitioned systems. Sav Mellor, large systems project manager, says that the eight central processor system is architecturally similar to IBM’s six-way 900 machine. Data transfer is handled by system data switches, and the two system control units are tightly coupled and communicate with both sides of the system. The data switches communicate with main and expanded storage, and the system controllers communicate with input-output processors.

By Janice McGinn

Mellor says that eight-way machines have always been possible with IBM architecture, but the diminishing returns as extra processors were added didn’t justify the expense of such large systems. Hardware alterations and perhaps more significant, software improvements, have removed that barrier, Amdahl believes, and there is no technological reason why IBM should not produce an eight-way system – it’s just another of those IBM marketing decisions. Amdahl plans to release formal environmental figures for the M models by the end of October, and in the meantime, says that the 8650M occupies approximately the same reinforced floor space as IBM’s 9021-900, but on a standard floor the 900 is significantly bigger, although it is rated at around 220 MIPS compared with Amdahl’s 350 MIPS. An issue affecting both IBM and the plug-compatible manufacturers is availability of the new Cryptographic feature outside the US. The American government has said that Data Encryption Standard algorithms cannot be exported from the US, although exceptions have been made for some financial institutions. Amdahl expects that there will be problems in obtaining an export licence, and Sav Mellor’s wry observation is that those problems will make some lawyers very rich. Nonetheless, whatever agreement is reached between IBM and the US government will

also apply to Amdahl. As regards the new System 390 architecture, Doug Smith says that it is less onerous than ESA, and he likes the idea of one compatible architecture, partly because it will stimulate demand for high-end systems. However, Amdahl’s 5890 machines won’t be field-upgradeable to the 5995 Series, although some models will support the MVS/ESA and VM/ESA releases. IBM is prepared to undertake the two-step upgrade to a 900 from the 720 – it involves a complete processor swapout or brain transplant in data centre conditions, but Amdahl seems to adopt the attitude that such radical change and alteration ought to take place in a factory environment, not during a long weekend.

Stop-gaps

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Amdahl has been developing the new series over a number of years, and since it is planned to be around for a long time, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the machines, just like the original 5990, are slugged – and in retrospect, the 5990 looks like one of the most successful stop-gaps ever. Most commentators expected more from the Summit announcement, possibly 47-bit addressing or more replacements for the top-end Js, but Amdahl evidently waited to see the colour of IBM’s eyes and responded accordingly. The eight 9.5 CPU boards don’t need all that cabinet space, and one can speculate that Amdahl plans to use the spare capacity when IBM makes the next Summit announcement. Apart from being the first manufacturer to announce a 350 MIPS eight-way processor for the IBM environment, the company has scored a first with its pricing. $32.1m for a 8650M in minimum configuration is daunting, and many people believe that users just won’t pay that sort of money for a computer. They may be right. But it is at present the only single image 350 MIPS machine on the market, and corporations like Boeing Co and Martin Marietta Corp could well confound these sceptics when the the 6560M and 8560M are shipping in the second quarter of 1992.

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