Copper Comes to Mainframe, AS/400 on the Horizon

With the introduction of its G6 computer system, IBM brings copper-semiconductor technology to the world of mainframes. The introduction of copper into the S/390 brings with it the promise of a system capable of processing 1.6 billion instructions per second.

The AS/400 market will not feel the effects of copper-semiconductor technology for several years, according to IBM, although Big Blue insists it has specific plans to keep the AS/400 up to date with the latest processor technology.

"In 1999, our processor roadmap was the Northstar processor," says Bob Elliott, 1999 project manager for the AS/400 brand. IBM executives, however, "have talked openly" of follow-up technology to the Northstar available in the year 2000, followed by further enhanced technology in 2001.

"That says we're staying in sync with processor technologies," Elliott points out. "Technology like the silicon-on-copper semiconductor is something AS/400 users can look forward to in the future," he says, although no schedule has been created for availability.

The G6 is the first IBM mainframe to use the copper-semiconductor technology the company introduced nearly two years ago. In addition to increasing speed and capacity, copper chips cost less and use less electricity than those made with aluminum, according to IBM. The metals are used to carry signals between millions of transistors packed into each thumbnail-sized piece of silicon.

The product launch comes at least a month ahead of schedule and the jump in performance capacity is much larger than expected. "They were not expected to hit these levels until the middle of next year. It's really quite a surprise," says John Jones, an industry analyst with Salomon Smith Barney Inc. That type of power, he continues, could help online retailers, Web brokerages and other frequently overwhelmed e-businesses better "handle the transaction volume growth that's being created by the explosion of demand coming from the Internet."

--L. Greenemeier