Several vendors to the banking industry are rolling out software applications on International Business Machines Corp.'s RS/6000 S80 server, which was launched last week and is aimed at banks and other large-scale, high-volume transaction businesses.

Some users of the new system said it excelled in benchmark testing and could challenge other server technologies on the market.

In testing its Money Transfer System on the S80, ACI Worldwide found that "the transaction volumes were five times faster than Vax -- our former platform at half the price," said Jonathan Edwards, chief technology officer in ACI Worldwide's corporate banking group. "It is now top of the heap in Unix servers and demolished Sun (Microsystems) in a number of industry benchmarks."

"This is the Sun killer," said John B. Holz, vice president of sales workstations at IBM. A Sun E10000 with 64 microprocessors and 64 gigabytes of memory costs about 50% more than the RS/6000 S80 with 24 microprocessors and 64 gigabytes of memory.

The S80 server is powered by AIX, a Unix operating system, and it more than triples the performance of its predecessor, the RS/6000 S70 Advanced, IBM said. The S80 server is particularly suited for on-line transaction processing, enterprise resource planning, and supply chain management.

ACI tested the new hardware for three months at IBM's Solution Partnership Center in Waltham, Mass., using the RS/6000 S80 12-way server. ACI's Money Transfer System processes high-value payments in real time and is said to move a trillion dollars a day.

In a controlled test, ACI's MTS processed 288,000 funds transfer messages in less than 21 minutes, at a rate of 225 messages a second.

"Banks are getting bigger, and their volumes are growing," Mr. Edwards said. "To get economies of scale we needed to prove that the new platform could scale beyond their needs, and so we partnered with IBM."

ACI is the distribution and support operation for Transaction Systems Architects Inc. and has delivered software to more than 100 of the world's top 500 banks and 19 of the top 100 retailers in the United States. It is in discussions with a top-10 wholesale commercial bank in the United States to upgrade to the new server using the Money Transfer System.

ACI expects two more banks to go live on the platform within eight months. "It is gratifying to see IBM support this kind of server," Mr. Edwards said. "We anticipate all 65 of our customers using the Money Transfer System will eventually move to the IBM platform."

Sanchez Computer Associates Inc. is another company that has been performance testing the S80 server. Sanchez already runs its Profile core processing software for large financial institutions on IBM's RS/6000 family of servers.

"Typically we deploy applications on the S70 platform today," said Michael Rotella, director of technology for global customer solutions at Malvern, Pa.-based Sanchez.

Preliminary in-house tests on the S80 are showing "good, promising results," Mr. Rotella said. "We need to provide our customers with mainframe-class, transaction processing on highly scalable servers. We anticipate using IBM's servers with our software."

First, though, Sanchez will conduct a two- to eight-week benchmark test at IBM's solutions center in Waltham.

Sanchez sells to the top 1,000 banks in the world, and Mr. Rotella said it is receiving more requests for the RS/6000 using the AIX operating system than other systems. As Bank One Corp.'s WingspanBank.com, a Sanchez customer, grows, "it very likely will migrate to the S80 box," Mr. Rotella said.

M&I Eastpoint, a Bedford, N.H.-based company that sells client/server core processing software to community banks, has also seen strong results in testing.

"The RS/6000 is the only platform we support," said Larry Angeli, vice president of sales and marketing at M&I Eastpoint. In tests comparing the IBM RS/6000 S80 against the earlier F50, M&I found a 200% to 300% performance improvement in transaction processing, and there was leftover capacity on the central processing unit.

"It can do a heavier transaction load," Mr. Angeli said. "As the power of these platforms goes up and the price performance gets better, a solutions provider like us can ride that wave."

Mr. Angeli said demand for client/server architecture is growing every day. "At first it was a play-toy. Now people are accustomed to graphical user interfaces and relational data bases."

M&I Eastpoint's Banking System has been sold to 70 financial institutions. Two customers "right away are interested in going to S80" from F50s, Mr. Angeli said. As more banks move to the Internet, he said, "they need to see scalability without being hampered by hardware. Client/server gives the ability to do that."

Telebanc Financial Group, a virtual banking company to be acquired by E-Trade Group, is one of M&I Eastpoint's largest customers.

IBM has been developing the S80 server for the past year. "We took what previously had been the highest-performing machine in symmetric multiprocessing and increased its performance by threefold," said IBM's Mr. Holz. He said the company has made a $1 billion investment to have "the No. 1 Unix server."

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