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IBM's Power systems business is growing for the first time in years

James Niccolai | Jan. 22, 2016
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Brookwood questioned whether IBM can sustain the growth long term. Vendors including Qualcomm are investing heavily in ARM server chips, and Power could eventually find itself "squeezed out" by Intel and ARM, he said.

IBM also hasn't discussed plans yet for future Power processors. "That's key, because Intel invests seriously in this area, and the ARM partners in aggregate are investing a lot."

Still, for now IBM's RISC chip is having a mini-renaissance.

Meanwhile, Oracle continues to pile money into Sparc, confounding predictions that Chairman Larry Ellison would kill off the architecture after buying Sun Microsystems. Oracle tends to focus on systems that run its own applications, however, while IBM is going after a broader market.

The RISC platforms give both companies a way to differentiate their products from commodity hardware based on x86 processors.

HP doesn't have that option. It killed off PA-RISC a decade ago and bet big on Intel's Itanium chip with disastrous results. Itanium eventually flopped, and HP is having to port its high-end systems to Intel's Xeon.

"I think they gave up on PA-RISC for all the wrong reasons," Brookwood said. HP was worried about the cost of building new chip manufacturing plants, he said, and didn't foresee the rise of third-party foundries like TSMC.

The efforts with Power are part of a broader effort by IBM to make its hardware profitable again. It sold its money-losing x86 server business to Lenovo to focus on higher end products. Its System z mainframe had a good 2015 as well, thanks to the release of the z13 early last year.

The upshot is a much smaller but more profitable hardware business. For all of 2013, IBM's hardware division reported a loss of $507 million on $15 billion in revenue. Last year, it made a profit of $604 million on $8.0 billion in revenue.

 

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