IBM’s Next-Gen i5 OS Touts New POWER6 Server

There’s still plenty of life left in Big Blue’s midrange server line

The next rev of IBM Corp.’s i5 OS isn’t due until next year, but Big Blue gave System i proponents a glimpse of what’s in store.

After this month’s System i reshuffle (http://www.esj.com/Enterprise/article.aspx?EditorialsID=2723), analysts say Big Blue’s i5 OS preview and the announcement of a new POWER6-based i570 server demonstrate that there’s still plenty of life left in IBM’s venerable midrange server line.

Last week, IBM previewed i5/OS Version 6 (i5/OS V6R1), which it positions as a significant revision of its core i5 OS.

V6R1 won’t ship until sometime in 2008, but when it does it will boast an array of new amenities, including an encryption facility for both online (disk-based) and near-line (tape-based) data, improved virtualization support, and enhanced Web services deployment and integration capabilities. Elsewhere, Big Blue touted the availability of the MySQL open-source database for i5/OS.

Nor was that all. Last week IBM unveiled its new System i 570, a POWER6-based system that can scale up to 16-way configurations.

Big Blue says the new i570 is able to run multiple applications simultaneously and boasts scalable Capacity on Demand (CoD) resources. The i570 is also the first of IBM’s System i servers to feature a flexible i5/OS Edition pricing structure, which, officials say, should make it easier or more affordable for customers to pay for the software, middleware, and features they use.

Analysts are encouraged by IBM’s System i revitalization. For starters, they point out, this week’s announcements build on the momentum generated by Big Blue’s timely System i reshuffle. That’s important because the status quo that characterized the AS/400’s launch in 1988—when that platform was developed wholly internally and incorporated features that made it one of the industry’s most advanced business computers—is considerably altered.

"IBM’s System i announcements pursue an interesting course, highlighting the platform’s traditional qualities while also positioning it for future opportunities and challenges," writes industry veteran Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT. "It is critical to do so, especially considering last week’s announcement of the division of System i sales responsibilities into the new Business Systems and Power Systems business units."

In this respect, King continues, the revamped i5 OS—even if it’s still very much a work-in-progress—is integral to IBM’s strategy to help recast System i as an attractive proposition to new and existing customers alike.

"The key enhancements to i5/OS V6R1 and the new System i 570 help illuminate IBM’s enterprise-focused Power Systems strategy," King continues. "On the i5/OS side, the new features stress customer-friendly functionalities and system flexibility elemental to the i5. New encryption and virtualization capabilities intend to make life easier for large installations that depend on System i to support business-critical applications, while the Web service and Java utilities aim to help them take advantage of expanding numbers of new solutions."

The same can be said for Big Blue’s new i570 system, which King says offers customers an "interesting blend" of POWER6 performance and improved system flexibility.

"The modular design of the i570—[which is available] in up to four 1- to 4-way configurations that can also incorporate CoD options—means that customers can configure systems according to their immediate needs, then deploy additional resources as occasion or business growth dictates," he notes. "IBM’s new i5/OS edition pricing strategy means that i5 clients will have more options and more affordable options than ever before." System i has been a frequent source of consternation and hand-wringing for both supporters and critics alike. Nevertheless, King suggests, IBM might be on the right track with these latest System i moves.

"Overall, we believe that IBM’s focus on flexibility should help define the System i and System p solutions that co-occupy the new Power Systems BU. While the platforms share notable similarities, they offer business customers notably dissimilar value propositions," he concludes.

"Clearly delineating the respective differences and benefits of its individual Power-based solutions will be a critical issue if IBM hopes to maximize the value of both."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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