Technology Fast Track Continues in V4R3

It’s been barely six months since IBM set the AS/400 world and much of the rest of the computer industry on its ear with V4R2 of OS/400. With its native support for Java, Lotus Domino and an integrated Windows NT server, V4R2 was one of the most significant OS/400 releases ever.

Not content to rest on its laurels, IBM has followed on the heels of V4R2 with the September release of V4R3, further extending that groundbreaking release and adding many new features and operational improvements.The release was the third OS release in the past year, following V4R2 and last September’s V4R1.

"What we envisioned when we delivered V4R1 was to open up the underpinnings of the system to e-business," says Drew Flaada, IBM 1998 project manager for AS/400 brand. In V4R2, there was a lot of functional content – native Java, Domino, and NT on the IPCS. V4R3 extends and enhances the amount of function, like Java, and maintains currency since the technology is moving at a fairly accelerated pace."

Lee Kroon, senior industry analyst with the Cheshire, Conn.-based D.H. Andrews Group, says the biggest news about V4R3 is that it is the third release in the past year. "[V4R3] sends a very important message about IBM’s investment in the AS/400 and its resolve to drive sales on the platform and drive them significantly," he says. "It’s one more way for IBM to say the AS/400 is here to stay."

IBM’s e-Jump program will enable AS/400 shops to migrate directly to V4R3 without having to stop anywhere in between and the release runs on any RISC-based AS/400.

While the V4R2 functions have been extended and enhanced in this release, improvements have also been made to the AS/400’s IPL time, specifically on decreasing abnormal IPL time, such as from a hard failure. Reductions in IPL time have long been a hallmark of OS/400 releases as IBM touts the AS/400’s reliability.

"Reducing IPL time is one of the key things for us," says Flaada. "The new function gets all the headlines and splash, but improvements in the base plumbing and infrastructure of the system, like IPL time, recovery time and availability have always been a key focus for the AS/400."

Bob Gintowt, senior engineer at IBM’s AS/400 Division, says that while incremental improvements in IPL time have been made in this release, the most significant reduction is in IPL recovery time in cases where the system was hung or looping, or power had been lost on systems with Continuously Powered Main Storage. The enhancement takes advantage of a new design for directory recovery that was introduced in V4R2 to speed IPL time after a system crash. On large, complex systems, this may reduce IPL recovery time in some cases by up to one hour compared to prior releases.

"Reducing IPL time is one of the areas where we want to see continuing, ongoing improvements," says Gintowt. "We want to reduce abnormal IPL times or at least hold them steady as the customer’s system continues to grow. We continue to focus on squeezing out the most availability we can."

So who is V4R3 for? Larger users will benefit from the 94 percent CPW improvements on the 8-way and12-way Model 650 and S40 machines. Smaller, but growing users will benefit from up to 44 percent CPW improvement and a doubling of storage capacity on the Model 170. Leading-edge users will benefit from the continued enhancements for Java and e-business.

"If you’re making significant investments in e-business, if you’re maxed out on DASD and want to take advantage of the IOP compression and data compression capabilities, if you’re making a significant investment in Java and Java-based applications, then this is far more than a maintenance release for you," says Kroon.

IBM is also hoping V4R3 will help it bring more IT departments into the AS/400 fold. "We want to get our existing customers to invest in new technology and attract a whole new set of customers," explains Flaada.

Kroon agrees that V4R3 could have some impact beyond the current AS/400 customer base. "The most recent releases – V4R1, V4R2 and V4R3 – have all been geared toward increasing the AS/400’s visibility and appeal among users of Unix and Windows NT servers. V4R3 could have some major success outside the traditional marketplace of the AS/400," he says.

But aren’t three OS releases in a year a bit much for a user base that usually has to be dragged kicking and screaming to an OS upgrade? Not necessarily Kroon points out.

"It’s too much for the average AS/400 customer, but then it’s not designed for the average AS/400 customer. It’s designed for larger AS/400 customers and the marketplace beyond the AS/400 customer base," he adds.

"Moving to V4R3 now is not too much for customers who are on V4R2 and want to extend the advantages of V4R2 and leverage them. It’s not too much for companies who are hosting their systems on Windows NT. It’s an important measure of IBM’s commitment to maintain the AS/400’s share of a company’s IT budget and help the AS/400 be successful in combination AS/400-NT shops, especially given the greater scalability of the Invader series, Model 170."