The AS/400: Everything You Need It to Be

Much has changed in the midrange systems world since the AS/400 was launched in 1988. Today’s AS/400 processors, peripherals, and vendors bear little resemblance to their predecessors from a decade ago.

The system may still be called an AS/400, but that's about the only thing it has in common with the B models introduced in 1988. IBM has completely revamped the operating system and changed the hardware underneath. Even more remarkable is the way IBM has now positioned the AS/400 at the center of e-business. The AS/400 is everything you need it to be -- a Web server, a collaborative applications server, a transaction server, an electronic commerce hub, a data warehouse or all of the above.

Nowhere in the industry can you find a box with as much stability and uptime as the AS/400. The unscheduled downtime of an AS/400 is less than four hours a year. Compare that to the unscheduled downtime of an Intel Pentium processor, which is typically two weeks a year. However, the growth of Windows NT as a midrange-class server platform can't be ignored. There's a complementary role for both AS/400s and Windows NT in companies of tomorrow -- both will sit on the same network.

Today’s AS/400 sites require a high degree of connectivity to multiplatform environments, extending well beyond the enterprise to customers and suppliers. As a result, terminals, storage systems, printers, network devices and controllers, are smarter and more flexible than ever. Peripherals are built to be modular -- adaptable to virtually any type configuration and platform.

It should be noted that the traditional AS/400 peripheral market is still strong, and will continue to be for years to come. For example, while network computers and thin clients are today's hot item, rumors of the demise of 5250 terminals are greatly exaggerated. Many companies continue to rely on these rock-solid terminals, assuring them a place in a distributed computing strategy.

Along with changes in hardware and systems, the AS/400 channel itself has undergone a revolution. Back in 1988, most hardware and software was sold to customers through IBM's direct sales force. Now, customers are more likely to be dealing with VARs or integrators for their AS/400 solutions.

An important strength in the AS/400 market has been the availability of alternative suppliers of hardware, software, middleware and support. The availability of non-IBM sources of peripheral devices helps keep the AS/400 market competitive.

What does the near future hold for the AS/400? Some analysts project that AS/400 and its disk subsystems sales will break the $5 billion mark in 1998. Moreover, indications are that the market for AS/400 peripherals, connectivity and storage will remain robust for several years. The AS/400 system will likely become even more integrated with other systems throughout the enterprise, and will be more storage intensive. Enterprises will likely be powered by dual platforms -- AS/400 and Windows NT servers. AS/400s will deliver the stability and uptime required for transactions, while Windows NT servers will provide desktop productivity.

The AS/400 has grown as a robust, secure, scaleable platform for e-business, and Decision Data will be there to provide the network infrastructure to bring it into the next century.

Ed Golderer is the executive VP and general manager of Decision Data (Fort Washington, Pa.), a provider of peripheral equipment to the AS/400 market since the first processor rolled out of Rochester in 1988.