Editor's Desk: V4R3: More of the Same and then Some

In newspaper publishing there are “evergreens” – headlines that always seem to be current and never age. If we covered politics, “Clinton Presidency Rocked by Scandal” would be a good example of an evergreen. The headline can be recycled because the central subject of the story is the same, while only the names, dates and places may change.

Since we are an AS/400 newspaper, I will forgo my diatribe on the current state of American politics and get to the evergreen at hand; IBM’s V4R3/“Northstar” announcement. This is the third time in twelve months that IBM released a new version of OS/400, while adding significant performance and capacity gains to the underlying hardware.

While V4R1 and V4R2 brought new technology (8-way and 12-way SMP, Domino, Java and NT on the IPCS) to the AS/400, V4R3 polishes the rough edges and puts a shine on OS/400 in many respects. As Drew Flaada, IBM’s AS/400 Brand 1998 project manager says, this is the year that IBM leveled the playing field and added the pieces that critics said were missing from an AS/400 solution.

However, there are three specific areas in September’s V4R3/Northstar announcement that can’t be covered by a standard evergreen. These include Web serving, Northstar CPUs and the effective end of the green screen.

To the best of IBM AS/400 Brand General Manager, Tom Jarosh’s knowledge, the AS/400 has never been successfully hacked. That very fact should make it the top choice as an e-business Web server. With V4R3, IBM continues to drive home the point that the AS/400e Series is a world-class Web server.

V4R3 includes a long list of Web serving enhancements such as WebSphere, Java servlet support, multithreading, digital certificates, persistent connections, automatic browser detection and the ability for the AS/400 to act as a proxy. “There is nothing else that we need,” says Flaada. But if there is, the next turn of the OS/400 crank will undoubtedly include it.

One of the most interesting pieces of this announcement is the fact that a new 8-way Northstar-based system can be thought of as an upgrade to an existing 12-way “Apache”-based Model S40 or 650. With V4R3, the 262 MHz Northstar processor gives the AS/400e Series a more than 94 percent performance growth rate. From low- to high-end, the AS/400e Series now offers scaling of 330 times. You’ll never see performance gains like that come out of the Wintel space.

With all the V4R3 enhancements to the AS/400’s “point-and-click” capabilities, the green-screen era is rapidly drawing to a close. Key among these announcements is the AS/400 NetServer (included in V4R3), which provides native file and print serving for PC clients. Although you can still functionally do more with Client Access (better file transfer and national language support), users no longer need it to tie into the AS/400. “Green screens are not a required environment,” acknowledges Jarosh.

But like any other OS/400 release, V4R3 also contains enhancements to Client Access including support for Windows 98, TCP/IP printer emulation and an AFP 32-bit viewer. IBM realizes the AS/400 must be integrated into the Windows reality, but it also has over a million Client Access users that it isn’t going to dead end.

As AS/400 users, IBM’s constant drumbeat of announcements must be a comforting sound. As a newspaper, it gives us plenty to write about. Even though the IT market is now moving in Web years, Rochester is not falling off the technological pace, and we are along for the ride.