Catering in part to continued demand from banks for mainframe computers, International Business Machines Corp. has developed a dozen new models for its next generation of large-scale equipment.
The new computers, called Parallel Enterprise Servers, are the latest additions to IBM's System/390 line. They offer the ability to handle larger transaction processing workloads than the current computers, according to IBM officials.
Although the banking industry is increasing its use of PC-based services, demand for large-scale processing systems from banks continues to rise, observers said.
Unlike the central processing architectures of traditional mainframes, IBM's new servers use parallel processing, in which low-cost microprocessors are linked together to work on different parts of a problem simultaneously.
The new models, which will be shipped beginning July 31, are another step in Big Blue's "transformation from the 'big iron' mainframe of yesteryear to the cost-competitive, open-system servers that customers require today," said Linda Sanford, general manager of the S/390 division of the White Plains, N.Y.-based organization.
A number of banking institutions, including Mellon Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh, are looking into purchasing the new systems.
The IBM announcement comes at a time when a computing environment known as client/server has been growing increasingly popular with banks.
Client/server systems are tightly linked networks of personal computers that share information and applications. Many banks are investing in the technology and relying less on mainframes for certain applications.
Despite the migration to client/server, many of the biggest banks continue to beef up their large-scale computing equipment.
According to Tower Group, a Wellesley, Mass., consulting firm, mainframe computing capacity, measured in millions of instructions per second (MIPS), is growing at 22% a year.
Analysts expect this trend to continue as banks replace older mainframes with newer models that offer greater processing capacity.
The growth in mainframe capacity is being driven predominantly by the top 25 U.S. banks, which need large-capacity systems to handle the increase in transaction volume resulting from business expansions and acquisitions, said Bill Bradway, a Tower Group analyst.
"There's still interest in mainframes for core processing and data warehouse applications," he said. "IBM mainframes are still valued because their processing is proven, and banks need the high level of performance and security that come with these industrial-strength systems."
Bruce Hadburg, vice president and research analyst with Raymond James and Associates, St. Petersburg, Fla., agreed that client/server technology will not sound the death knell for mainframes.
Computer providers such as IBM go beyond just providing hardware, he said, and understand software and communications, while also possessing worldwide infrastructures for sales, service, and support. This combination cannot be matched by many PC providers, he said.
Many bankers cite these factors when arguing in favor of mainframe computers.
"Mainframes handle transaction-based processing better than anything out there," said Martin J. Lippert, senior vice president, information management and research at $40 billion-asset Mellon Bank.
Pittsburgh-based Mellon will incorporate the new IBM models in an expansion of its mainframe computing complex, Mr. Lippert said.
A benefit of the models is enhanced scalability, which allows banks to add processing capability in smaller increments, said Mr. Lippert.
Not persuaded by what he sees as the hype surrounding client/server technology, Mr. Lippert said mainframes are still best for running mission- critical applications. Client/server is good for decision-support applications and information delivery, he added.
"We take advantage of both environments," he said.