"Where we haven't answered them [Sun] yet is on the entry level," says Brian Connors, the IBM vice president in charge of the new OpenPower servers. "They're sitting on a $1.6 billion market for under-$10,000 servers."
The first system in the new line, dubbed the OpenPower 720, is priced starting at $5,000. It will be available in either a four-way rack or a tower configuration with a 1.5-GHz or 1.6-GHz version of IBM's recently released dual-core Power 5 microprocessor. Customers have a choice of Linux distribution from either Red Hat or Novell.
More models will follow in the first half of next year, led by a two-way OpenPower system. All will be available through IBM's resellers and business partners.
In marketing the new servers, IBM thinks it will be able to capitalize on a growing industry tilt toward Unix. "We believe the Linux market is going to grow," Connors says. "What we can do is embrace it and pull it up to the enterprise."
More pointedly, IBM thinks it can draw customers away from both HP and Sun by positioning Linux as an effective alternative to proprietary versions of Unix, such as Solaris and HP-UX. That sentiment was evident in an IBM statement, which reads: "As Sun loses sleep over the growing perception that Solaris is anti-Linux and HP brings PA-RISC to an end, IBM is introducing an entirely new server line."
For Sun's part, it fired back with a statement: "While IBM claims it is targeting Sun with its new systems, the reality is that this is a feeble attempt to gain a foothold in a market that is escaping them. IBM is significantly behind Sun in the volume Unix market and is trying to catch up."
Sun also emphasized that it is experiencing what it calls "phenomenal growth" at the low end, driven both by its Solaris on UltraSparc systems and its newer commodity servers based on AMD's 64-bit Opteron processor.
Still, according to the most recent server sales figures released by market analysts IDC, IBM remains atop the heap. IBM leads the market in revenue rankings, with Q2 server sales of $3.7 billion and a 32.5 percent market share. HP is in second with revenue of $3.1 billion and a 27.1 percent share; Sun is third with revenue of $1.4 billion and a 12.5 percent share. (The figures don't break out sales of entry-level servers.)
Despite IBM's lead, the company has been working furiously to fill out its Power 5 server offerings. The OpenPower family is specifically intended to plug a hole in Big Blue's low end. IBM has rolled out several Power 5 lines since it unveiled the high-profile Power 5 RISC processor this past March. The 64-bit device has a top clock speed of 1.9 GHz and beats Intel and AMD to the punch as the industry's first shipping dual-core part.
In July, IBM launched a family of midrange Unix/Linux servers built around the Power 5. In May, it introduced a line of Power 5 servers, running IBM's proprietary OS/400 operating system, aimed at the SMB market.