"AS/400" Era Coming to an End

IBM announces new strategy with unified server brand. AS/400 to become iSeries 400.

Finally putting to rest rampant speculation about its server strategy, IBM announced that the AS/400, along with the RS/6000, Netfinity, and S/390 servers, will be brought together under one brand name, the IBM eservers.

In addition to bringing the four servers under one umbrella, IBM is also re-naming them. The former server brands will each become an eserver series. The AS/400 will be known as the iSeries 400, the RS/6000 as the pSeries, the S/390 as the zSeries, and Netfinity as the xSeries. IBM will use the red “e” symbol as the connector between the servers and IBM’s e-business push. Beneath the eserver brand will be the individual product lines.

The 270 and 8XX servers will take the iSeries 400 name, but the Model 170 and 7XX servers will keep the AS/400 moniker and be sold until the end of 2001.
In two separate pre-briefings, Ian Jarman, manager, AS/400 product marketing, discussed the new server strategy and AS/400’s role in this initiative with MIDRANGE Systems.

“IBM’s goal is to deliver on its vision of e-business,” says Jarman. “By bringing together the servers in a structured environment, we feel we can do that. The strength of the “e” brand is key to the success of this move.”

According to Jarman, the move has been in the works for some time. There were a few main reasons, he says. One was IBM’s dilemma of how to adequately market a range of servers that are, at times, competing for the same customer base. Another was that IBM recognized the benefits of leveraging the technologies into one family of servers.

Ultimately, the decision to align the products under a single brand boiled down to one main reason. “Overall, as a unit, we can build a stronger argument for being the company of choice for e-business,” says Jarman. “We’re going to exploit all the technologies we have across all our product lines. This is not about re-naming or re-branding, its about bringing all of the technologies and strengths of our product line together so we can operate as a single family of servers and compete in the market with all the force of IBM.”

The AS/400 name, a stalwart of IBM’s server family since 1988 and the second strongest brand in IBM behind the IBM logo, will not be going away immediately, however. Instead, IBM has mapped out a gradual progression to the iSeries name.

IBM’s new line of AS/400 servers, the mdoel 8XX servers and the model 270 (announced in May of this year), will be referred to under the I series name. The other servers—the 7XX servers, the model 250 and model 170-will still be referred to as AS/400s.

“Any [AS/400] servers that have the copper and silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technologies will fall under the I series,” says Jarman. “Anything that does not will still fall under the AS/400 umbrella.”

All future hardware releases will fall under the iSeries name, but IBM will continue to sell the AS/400 through 2001. Some things will remain the same in the AS/400 community, as IBM announced that the AS/400’s operating system, OS/400, would retain the same name.

While Jarman says the May AS/400 announcements would have been the ideal time to announce the name change, the timing was just not right. “It would have been great to introduce the new line of servers under the iSeries name, but the other server families were not ready to make the announcement at the time. We could have waited to introduce the new servers, but we felt it would not have been fair to the AS/400 community.”

Although it has an installed base of 700,000, the AS/400 has fallen on tough times of late. IBM has taken steps over the past couple years to bring the AS/400 up-to-date with emerging technologies, adding support for Lotus/Domino, making it compatible with NT servers, etc. Those efforts did not translate into success, however, as the AS/400 division saw revenues decrease in six of the last seven quarters. “Although it has been around for some time, the technology is much different than it was in 1988,” says Jarman. “However, the image is that the AS/400 is old and people are writing off anything that is not new.”

It is that image, he says, that ultimately led to IBM’s decision to rename the AS/400 brand. “We have the opportunity to erase the vision of the AS/400 as old-school technology. By making this change, we believe we are taking that image head on and we’re re-positioning the AS/400 as a significant part of IBM’s e-business strategy. We have been an advocate of bringing the AS/400 and its leading technology into this new server strategy.”

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