In a rare mood of glasnost – that came into fashion and went out again in 1988 – IBM last week hosted a press conference in New York City to brief reporters on the current state of AIX and the RS/6000. While Big Blue didn’t exactly hold the kimono wide open, the update – some four months after the Rios debut – did provide a little peek behind the curtain. Although the assembled executives weren’t very forthcoming about exactly how many 6000s they’re producing, Advanced Workstation Division assistant general manager Bill Filip was pleased to report that initial orders came in at the high range of expectations, which has induced them to increase production capacity for the year. Filip avoided being precise but suggested that the total would be substantially more than 15,000 units.
This is good news for people who have been chafing under backlog constraints – or fears of them. The situation has improved, Filip said, in the last 30 days. Bottom line, everyone that wants one will get one in 1990. Luckily for IBM, half the initial orders specified third quarter delivery anyway, with 17% wanting the stuff right away and another 23% willing to wait until the fourth quarter. Leadtime is January and IBM is shooting for 30 to 60-day availability by the end of the year. Customer shipments began May 21 in the US, (June 30 in Europe), and IBM has already delivered 2,000 to the buying public. Another 4,500 machines have been installed internally or are out with IBM Business Partners. IBM wanted to quash reports that heavy numbers of machines are going to only a few customers. No one has more than 3% to 4%, they said. IBM also mapped out where it finds its machines going. According to Jeff Mason, director of advanced workstations and AIX systems for IBM US Marketing & Services, 31% of the backlog is earmarked for the industrial sector, 30% for financial applications, 29% for the general and public sector – half of which is universities – and the remaining 10% for the federal government. IBM currently finds its product mix is 57% workstation, 35% multi-user and 8% network server. However, it figures with time this breakdown will change to 60%, 25% and 15% respectively. In addition, 49% of the orders are for two-dimensional colour graphics, Mason said, followed by 24% wanting 8-bit three-dimensional colour, 14% wanting greyscale and 13% wanting 24-bit three-dimensional colour. So IBM has set its cap at taking the market’s lead position.
By Maureen O’Gara
To get there will take sales of well over 100,000 units a year for the next few years, it estimates. The message it wanted to relay last week was that it’s on track to achieve [its] goal. (Doubtless targeting Sun Microsystems Inc, it preens over the fact that over 50% of its orders are for technical workstation configurations). Never having been a Unix player before, IBM feels the need to reassure the market it’s got the stuff it takes. It says it’ll have 7,000 applications running by the end of the year, equal to Sun’s much desired catalogue. (IBM figures 1,500 of these are key to buying decisions but they are pretty much the same applications that run on everybody else’s machines.) It’s training its people in AIX, the 6000 and the competition to be able to go head-to-head with Sun, DEC, Hewlett-Packard, Unisys and NCR selling Unix. In addition, it has lined up 300 resellers, 200 RT folk and 100 new ones mostly with technical workstation experience. Of course none of these ingredients distinguish IBM from the pack of other Unix peddlers. But Blue figures it’s got the competition dead to rights on price-performance and was quick to trot out every benchmark that showed it in the lead. Basically, the results net out to the 6000 being twice as powerful as its CMOS competitors. To hold the high ground – and follow the workstation pattern IBM says it’s committed to improving performance twice a year and doubling it every 12 to 16 months. Young as Rios is, there may be some improvements later this year, according to Nick Donofrio, Advanced Workstation Division pres
ident. However, that’s not too surprising considering the 6000 should have come out last October – which makes it six months older than it seems. There are claims that 1991 versions of the box – like the promised three-chip CPU model – are already with software vendors. With the kind of overhead IBM has to support, it knows it can cut prices only just so far. The competition can rest assured it won’t be up against rock-bottom pricing. IBM, however, is planning a very low-cost diskless unit that will be a distributed computer software statement, and it also plans an under-$10,000 workstation – both for the first half of next year. Golden
But machines are only as good as the code that runs them and after much mishap IBM figures it’s finally got it right. The version, dubbed golden as well as release 3.1 – there was never a 3.0, only 3 – was described at the press conference as being as good as any code shipping today from the IBM Corporation. Historically beset by bugs, AIX and its 2m-plus lines of code is golden, they said, because you don’t have to re-compile any more. The IBMers remained cryptic about how they are going to merge and align OSF/1 into AIX, promising a sequel update closer to November when OSF/1 is scheduled to appear. Previously, IBM confirmed it is going to shelve AIX 3 in favour of OSF/1 on all systems – one day: only the marginal PS/2 version has a firm commitment. Although the trio did not expand on it publicly, their overhead foils indicated they plan to start licensing AIX source code in the first half of 1991 – presumably to large end-users and developers. B1 security and national language support are due in the same timeframe. They said not to expect the AIX database in the next 12 months and indicated that while they’ve had a few discussions about licensing the proprietary Rios RISC chip, a notion they had last year, they won’t be doing anything about it at this time. IBM said that the old RT was still shipping but naturally orders are fewer than for the 6000s. Users are just filling out installations.