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IBM unleashes Jurassic predator on Japan

How to celebrate 40 years of power servers in grand style

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What's two metres tall, contains 16Gb of operating memory and shares its name with the Jurassic's top predator? Well, a quick tour of IBM's North Dublin manufacturing facility on Tuesday brought the press face to face with the beast known as the T-Rex z990 series server.

This monster contains 20 times the computing power - in one twentieth of the space - than an equivalent machine from 12 years ago. Destined for Japan, this particular machine is from the new flagship line launched last year by IBM, as it moved towards custom-built mainframe servers that run on Linux or Unix.

The z series offers high-end clients such as financial institutions and insurance companies a huge amount of temporary capacity on demand, according to IBM campus Vice President Fernand Sanchez.

"These built-to-order z series servers never have to be rebooted," Sanchez told ElectricNews.Net during the tour. "Statistically, one fails every 50 years but generally it would be modified with new parts within three to four years."

"We look at the whole business and then suggest a machine that is optimised for the user," he added. "In terms of manufacturing, no day is the same here, because each order is tailored to customer requirements."

IBM's Dublin facility produces the company's Z, I and P series servers, and the 40th anniversary of IBM's original flagship mainframe - the System/360 - gave the company a good excuse to show the press around. Four decades ago, the behemoth System/360 was unveiled and later used by NASA to launch the Gemini and Apollo series of spacecraft and to put astronauts on the moon.

At the time the beast was unleashed, former IBM chairman and chief executive officer Tom Watson Jr. - who led the company from the age of typewriters into the computer era - called the new family of mainframes the "most important product announcement in the company's history". Described by Fortune magazine at the time as IBM's "$5bn gamble", the successful System/360 was one of the first general-purpose computers not designed for any particular application such as storage or communications.

IBM established its Irish presence in 1956 and now employs 3,700 people from 60 different countries. Besides its 24-hour server manufacturing operations, IBM also has a software, telesales, marketing and corporate finance centres in Ireland. The company, which employs 319,000 worldwide, reported revenues of $89bn for the year ending 31 December 2003.

Footnote
During our tour Michael Coyle, P-Series and Storage Systems sales, told us that Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer which won a historic victory over world chess champion Garry Kasparov, will never play again. Deep Blue has already proved its point, Coyle said. "[Deep Blue] could only have got better since the victory," he added.

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