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Raising the high-end

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IBM will try to breath life into its languishing mainframe business during an event next week, if its CFO and marketing material are to be believed.

Big Blue's CFO Mark Loughridge used an earnings conference call this week to declare "the end of what has been a long (zSeries) product cycle" with new gear being displayed next week and delivered in September. In addition, IBM's public relations staff have sent press an invitation to a July 26 event in New York that will provide a "glimpse at the future of computing systems technology." Or in this case the reworking of computing's past.

Some analysts speculate IBM will show a refreshed high-end system with 30 to 40 per cent better performance than the z990 and more scale. The current box allows customers to use 32 processors for data crunching and 16 for system tasks. The upgraded box could let customers tap as many as 38 chips for processing. IBM should put out a real refresh with a whole new mainframe line in 2007.

IBM is also expected to wrap the mainframe box with new software and storage gear, billing the dinosaur as a solid choice to anchor any modern data center. Software updates could include Version 1.7 of z/OS, which IBM has planned for September, and even COBOL developer tools. IBM has a teleconference planned on July 26 to cover WebSphere Developer for zSeries, WebShpere Studio Asset Analyzer, Asset Transformation Workbench, File Manager, Fault Analyzer and Debug Tool Suite.

Another teleconference is planned to go over "the latest systems technologies across servers, storage and networking; how new mainframe capabilities will help enable you to manage workloads, security and resiliency across the infrastructure; and how the mainframe can help you integrate data, transactions and applications across the infrastructure."

A struggling mainframe business has weighed on IBM's last two quarters.

This week, IBM revealed that mainframe sales fell 24 per cent during the second quarter - a drop that hurt Global Services as well. ZSeries sales fell 16 per cent in the first quarter, prompting IBM to initiate a staggering round of layoffs. The Register discovered that numerous UK mainframe support staff lost their jobs as a result of these actions and that IBM offshored the work to South Africa.

IBM frequently blames slow mainframe upgrade cycles for bad quarters. In 2003, it fingered missing encryption software for a slump in mainframe sales and consequently a drop in overall hardware revenue. Now it has whined about worker costs and a reluctance to buy older systems.

You can expect IBM to do its usual routine with the new mainframe and pitch the box as being "as modern as ever" and "the real answer for a hetrogenous data center." The old beasts, however, must compete against ever-improving Unix, Linux and Windows gear, and IBM's mainframe sales over two years indicate that it's a struggle. ®

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