Editor's Desk - IT Trends and Implications

Earlier this week, I exchanged e-mail messages with a 10-year subscriber to MIDRANGE Systems. Although interested in both the AS/400 and RS/6000 product lines, this reader's attention was migrating to Unix. He wrote to tell me how distressed he was with our lack of AIX coverage, especially, since MIDRANGE Systems is now increasing its coverage of a non-IBM operating system - Windows NT.

The reader, a 34-year veteran of the computer industry, rightly pointed out that editorial coverage of a given technology often precedes its actual adoption by the mass majority of users by several years. While Windows NT is still a far cry from the stability and scalability of OS/400, it's undeniably here. A May 1998, MIDRANGE Systems reader survey found that 91 percent of respondents used or planned to use Windows NT.

Publishing, like IT, is a dynamic field where the only constant is change. We live and die by the vitality of the markets we operate in and, in general, just roll with the punches.

Although MIDRANGE Systems was launched as an AS/400-specific publication, as late as 1996 we carried the tag line, "The Independent Newspaper for IBM AS/400 and RS/6000 Server Computing."

The gradual shift from covering the RS/6000 began in June 1995 with the release of V3R6 and 64-bit RISC-based AS/400s. By December 1996, due largely to an extremely loyal installed base, growing momentum and support for TCP/IP, the AS/400 stepped out of the RS/6000's shadow. In 1997, MIDRANGE Systems returned to being an AS/400 newspaper. Today, our tag line reads "The AS/400 News Source."

However, the reader's e-mail caused me to step back and really think about the Unix operating system for the first time in many months. Was MIDRANGE Systems selling the RS/6000 short and buying into NT's hype? Was our increased emphasis on NT an accurate reflection of a broad market trend?

First, I went back to the monthly reader opinion polls we conducted this year. Sure enough, the surveys indicated that MIDRANGE System readers wanted to see more coverage of NT connectivity issues. The trend was solidly in favor of increased NT coverage (62 percent to 38 percent average); it was by no means a landslide.

Then I looked to IBM. Earlier this year Big Blue finally delivered Windows NT on its IPCS and added the necessary drivers and support for the PC operating system in V4R2. Furthermore, IBM is heavily promoting its Netfinity line of Intel-based servers and the fact that it has the largest offering of NT applications.

Despite the delay of Intel's 64-bit Merced chip until mid- to late-2000, RS/6000 sales remain lackluster. While low-end AIX sales are being squeezed by NT, IBM is attempting to leverage its successful SP technology by eventually building an NT-based supercomputer that incorporates RS/6000 technology.

Finally, I tapped into the market reports of independent market research firms. Again, the actual popularity of NT was again supported. Analysts estimate that more than 1 million Windows NT servers were sold in 1997. Even if you agree that it takes about a dozen NT servers to do the work of one AS/400, it's still a lot of boxes.

According to IDC (Framingham, Mass.), during 1997, NT server's growth rate was 73 percent compared to Unix, which grew at a paltry 17 percent. Granted, much of NT's sales were for file and print serving, but NT is making inroads. And finally, IDC predicts the NT server installed base will surpass all flavors of Unix during the next year.

By all indications, the die is cast in favor of NT. However, the case is far from closed. MIDRANGE Systems will continue to poll our readers on the types of news reporting they need to better manage their AS/400-based enterprises.

Please let me know your thoughts on this issue.