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The AS/400 is now i5; who cares


Desktop and personal systems will always be driven by fashion being vulnerable to mass advertising, but it is ridiculous to think that fashion has an impact on core business systems, but it does.

How many companies are currently playing with Linux servers when their Windows and Unix servers are perfectly adequate? There are of course other reasons than being seen to be "up-to-date", such as price, performance and enhanced features, but obviously IBM feel that fashionability is important. They are worried (and rightly so) that the iSeries is loosing ground and sales are falling. They have come to the conclusion that the iSeries has an old fashioned, unappealing image and so it has been renamed i5.
Frankly I don't think that this will change anything. The "five" comes from the fact that the new models are based on IBM's Power5 processors. This actually is a very important step forward, but nobody but a dedicated iSeries user will see any significance in it. The real focus of IBM's marketing of the new machine should be the fact that is by a long way the best and most advanced business and server machine available! The failure of the iSeries to dominate the server world has always been a mystery to me. Based on the old System/38 architecture, relaunched as the AS/400, the iSeries has been the model all other servers strive to emulate, but none have yet caught up with. If IT managers were to take a blank sheet of paper and to ignore any preferences for systems they have come to accept and to write a specification for their ideal servers, they would come up with the iSeries. The chief architect of the iSeries is Frank Soltis, a friendly, approachable man, in contrast to the self-styled demigods (I won't name any) that dominate IT, the point of which is that Frank has always focused on functionality of the iSeries and not on his personal image. Would that we had many more like him.
What is it then that the iSeries has got that other systems don't have? The best answer I can think of is that to compare an iSeries with a Windows or Unix machine is like comparing a car with an engine. The iSeries is a complete business system with integral data handling, communications, management, etc. Other systems are gradually trying to copy this model, but by adding middleware rather than integrated functions. Thus a mainframe z/OS user will also add CICS, DB/2, Omegamon, etc. or a Windows user will add SQL/Server, IIS, etc., Unix users will go for Oracle, and so on. All this functionality is integral with the iSeries machines; the operating system, OS/400 and now i5/OS is a superset of what others call an operating system.
So what is the weakness of the older AS/400? I suppose above all it is the same problem that haunts Apple; the system is seen as a total trap-in to IBM, which is true. Even as new functionality has been added, it has been IBM proprietary, i.e. DB/2, Lotus Notes, WebSphere, not Oracle, etc. Interestingly enough there are never any complaints about this from iSeries users, but it would be understandable that potential users were suspicious if it weren't for the long life of this system with so few problems on record!
True to form then, the new i5 is not just a renaming of the AS/400 or iSeries, but is a major step forward for all IBM midrange users which Windows and Unix users should look into. More of this next issue.< BR>
Martin Healey, pioneer development Intel-based computers en c/s-architecture. Director of a number of IT specialist companies and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales.

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