IBM said Thursday its workhorse commercial computers have smashed the industry's most demanding tests, which analysts said creates a performance gap that could put further pressure on Hewlett-Packard or Sun Microsystems to recalibrate their strategies.
International Business Machines Corp. executives told a meeting of industry analysts in Austin, Texas, that IBM's Unix eServer 595 computer running on IBM's own Power 5 line of computer chips has set a new database-processing record that surpasses by nearly three times the previous performance record set by HP for its heavy-duty Superdome computers.
The Armonk, New York-based company said that in industry-recognized tests that corporate decision-makers use to choose their computers for running databases, operations and research, IBM has demonstrated what could stretch into a multiyear lead in price and performance in the Unix market.
"It wasn't an incremental leap ahead. It was really a pole vault over the competition," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT market research in Hayward, California.
Chief information officers, also known as CIOs, and other corporate buyers count on independent tests to measure the performance of computers from rival vendors in real-life business conditions.
These tests, together with each vendor's multiyear road map of planned technology upgrades, its track record of meeting deadlines and the system's overall price, are the basic criteria for selling in the $10 billion-a-year Unix market.
IBM said its eServer 595 in the widely recognized TPC test of banking, insurance and retail transactions performed 3.21 million transactions per minute, or nearly three times the 1.2 million transactions of HP's fastest tested machine.
A year ago, HP's Integrity rx5670 server running on Intel Itanium chips had broken through the 1 million transaction per minute barrier, clocking 1.18 million transactions on the widely recognized TPC computer performance test.
The computer industry has long used benchmark tests in an endless game of corporate marketing one-upmanship in the commercial computer market. The world's biggest companies and government agencies pay $1 million or more for such machines.
But Adalio Sanchez, IBM general manager for the pSeries, said that IBM's latest servers had significantly outperformed HP and Sun machines in 50 separate industry benchmark tests that reflect a wide range of real-world business conditions.
"Once in a great while, a technology helps reshape the industry marketplace," Sanchez told reporters in a conference call Thursday. "I believe we are at that point today."
Forrester's Day agreed that this test marked a milestone. "This particular benchmark test represents a breakthrough," said Brad Day, an industry analyst for Forrester Research who tracks the benchmark race among computer makers. "It really is going to make it tough for both HP and Sun to respond."
HP acknowledged IBM's current success, but said the fight was not over. "Just as HP has broken performance records on the HP Superdome, and will again, IBM has made a significant achievement with this benchmark," HP spokesman Kathy Sowards said. "We are in a two-horse race in the server business."
Sun declined to comment other than to say it no longer recognizes the TPC benchmark as a real-world computing test. It has not participated in this general-purpose benchmark test since 2001.
Separately, Intel President Paul Otellini said in an interview with Business Week that Intel was scaling back efforts to market its most powerful chip, Itanium 2, in mid-range computers so it can compete more effectively with IBM's Power line of chip in the mainframe-class computer market. "Long term, the architecture Itanium needs to aim at is (IBM's) Power line," Otellini said.