For a product that is only a little over a year old, the IBM RT Personal Computer – or 6150 as IBM Europe insists on calling it, has already had a complex and chequered history. Many were writing it off virtually from Day One, when the poor price- performance made the machine a no-hoper against the DEC MicroVAX II and the likes of Apollo and Sun in the workstation market at which IBM initially exclusively aimed it in the US. But over here, resellers are only just getting to grips with the machine as a multi-user business system, and the jury is definitely still out on its future in that market. There were already hints of an optimistic, rather pugnacious approach from IBM when it announced the new models of the RT last month (CI No 623).
Last week IBM UK went further with a briefing on the machines that made the product look not so much like an oddball in the IBM range as one the company is relying on to take it into markets where it has struggled or not addressed, with the new models countering the poor price-performance of the original machines, and IBM declaring that the AIX operating system is the model for its future Unix offerings. The new machines are intended to give IBM a second crack at the workstation market. And after the interest over here in the RT as a multi-user business system – not yet reflected by much in the way of shipments – IBM confirmed that the corporation as a whole has recognised that the RT can play a major role as both a single-user and multi-user system and is repositioning the machine to recognise what has happened in the market. Art Goldberg, market development manager over from Milford, Connecticut, claimed that IBM expects half the RT sales to come from commercial applications. Over here, IBM has signed up some 68 RT dealers and expects to double the number this year, continuing the approaches it has made to specialists in the multi-user and Unix systems markets. Alan Milne, RT dealer sales manager, said that the box represents IBM’s lowest-cost solution for small to medium-sized businesses and expects them to double IBM’s share in this business sector in 1987. Over 300 applications are ported and running, he added. IBM certainly needs something if it is to grab a healthy slice of an extremely competitive market. Its other mid-range offerings clearly are not going to do it: the 9370s are targetted at mainframe customers, while the System 36 has never been anything like so successful a product over here as in the US, and last year its UK sales were little short of abysmal. Furthermore, the majority of 36s are sold into large accounts, not the small to medium businesses that IBM hopes will, through resellers, adopt the RT. The new desktop model 115 and the floor-standing 125 and B25 are said to offer system throughput of up to four times that of the original desktop models 10 and 15, and the floor-standing models 20, 25, and A25. They include the new RISC Advanced Processor cycling at 100nS and rated at up to 4.5 MIPS against the 1.6 to 2.1 MIPS of the original Base Processor. This, said Goldberg, is the first IBM processor to use one micron CMOS technology, and is the second product after the 3090 mainframe to use IBM’s 1M-bit memory chips. And he said that IBM’s Burlington Labs have the processor running at 80nS, for a potential 20% to 25% extra performance from the same hardware. The new machines include as standard a Motorola 68881 floating point co-processor and IBM has also beefed up the optional extra floating point processor to boost maximum computational performance to eight times that of the original machines. By also enabling IBM graphics terminals to be directly attached and introducing a mainframe- and VAX- compatible VS Fortran, the company has addressed many of the machine’s deficiencies as a workstation. Main memory is up to a maximum of 16Mb using the new, faster chips, and a new ESDI disk adaptor is claimed to increase data input-output rates up to fourfold, and takes three internal 70Mb drives. While the new hardware makes the machine look a healthier
contender against the mass of Unix boxes on the market – and MicroVAX II – new software not only enabled IBM to claim that the RT is now IBM’s most connectable machine but also provided the clearest glimpse yet of its future Unix strategy. The AIX operating system – one of the areas where the RT has generally been praised rather than criticised – is the model for IBM’s future Unix products from Personals to mainframes, the company confirmed. And if staff numbers have anything to do with commitment, it’s worth noting that IBM’s Unix development effort dwarfs just about anyone else’s outside AT&T, with a claimed 1,000 people in the new Austin, Texas unit dedicated to Unix and the RT hardware – but then IBM’s solution to any problem always was to throw more programmers at it. In addition to the Interactive Systems Corp user interface and electronic mail enhancements included in other IBM Unix products, IBM announced some significant extensions of its own. Distributed Services is IBM’s counterpart to AT&T’s Remote File Sharing and Sun’s Network File System, offering transparent access from any AIX system to files located elsewhere on a network and supporting AIX file and record locking. But IBM has used the proprietary SNA LU 6.2 for Distributed Services over Ethernet or SDLC links; Distributed Services is one facility that is planned to move to other IBM Unix implementations, presenting a future scenario of a proprietary network of various AIX systems.
Cheaper than a 3274
IBM also wheeled out a version of the Masachusetts Institute of Technology-developed X-Windows – supporting character-based applications only, like most of the versions from other vendors – that works over TCP/IP or with Distributed Services, and indicated that X Win-dows was another product that would be moved to other AIX systems. The more bizarre communications announcements included TCP/IP over Token ring networks – RTs can’t talk to anything else over Token Ring except other RTs or network management systems. But the RT is now aligned with the future direction of Token Ring. And in what amounted to an extraordinary indictment of IBM’s dedicated 3274 and new 3174 cluster controllers, RT dealer account manager Kit Trew said that the RT, which can be adapted to support up to 32 host 3270 sessions over SNA or bisync protocols, could be configured as a controller for a similar price to a dedicated 3274, and is therefore a powerful offering for IBM mainframe users. Geoff Henderson, applications manager at IBM’s Warwick centre, went further by describing the RT as the prime connectivity machine, allowing the sales force to sell to non-IBM customers. And he said that 90 software houses have been through Warwick’s applications conversion centre.