IBM Establishes AS/400 SMPG

Last month, IBM announced the AS/400 Systems Management Partners Group (SMPG), a technical assistance and marketing program forged with a number of third-party systems management software vendors. The program is designed to help AS/400 users sort through and more easily handle the increasingly complex task of OS/400 system and network resource management.

IBM itself offers some base-level systems management features in the OS/400 operating system, such as Performance Management/400 and the Operations Productivity Pak. But the company decided that rather than duplicate additional systems management efforts that are handled effectively by third-party vendors, it would work closely with those companies to keep AS/400 users informed about what software is available for application management, database and security administration, remote operations and complex monitoring.

The new program forms one of IBM’s so-called “three pillars” of OS/400 systems management, along with the base OS/400 operating system and the Tivoli heterogeneous systems management product suite.

According to Len Broich, AS/400 program manager for worldwide systems management partners, the platform was initially positioned as a departmental server that, simply put, users could switch on, configure and forget about. But, jumping ahead to the present, the AS/400 now provides access to enterprise-wide, mission-critical applications, and the server often interacts with a variety of processing platforms. As a result, systems management has become a complex and diverse task. The SMPG will eventually encompass the array of third-party systems management tools necessary in this kind of network environment.

“The enterprise computing environment and accompanying client management have changed tremendously in the last 10 years,” says Broich. “In 1988, people used 5250 terminals or terminal emulation to access AS/400 applications, but now 95 percent of the clients connected to the AS/400 are intelligent thin-client machines and PCs. That spurred us to work with the firewall providers, as well as inventory management and software distribution providers, just to name a few. The intention is to complement what we already offer with OS/400, so we can concentrate on the OS level.”

The partner program’s two main objectives are technical assistance and joint marketing. IBM assigns an AS/400 technical representative to each participating software vendor to help them take advantage of enhancements to OS/400. In addition, a marketing effort includes availability of a CD-ROM containing demonstration programs and full-blown applications with “time-out” mechanisms to let AS/400 customers evaluate and test products available from participating ISVs.

The CD now ships with every copy of OS/400, and will be available to existing users when they upgrade. Eventually, the sample applications will be available on the Internet, via IBM’s AS/400 homepage.

The first CD, introduced with IBM’s release of OS/400 V4R3 last month, contains applications available from the first six participating vendors. These include ACI Worldwide (Omaha, Neb.), Bytware Inc. (Grass Valley, Calif.), Candle Corp. (Santa Monica, Calif.), MBA Inc. (Tulsa, Okla.), New Dimension Software (Irvine, Calif.), and PentaSafe Inc. (Houston). IBM plans to enlist about 20 software vendors into the program over the next two years.

Software vendors included in the first release hope to benefit from IBM’s OS/400 marketing punch. At the same time that the partnerships help IBM introduce a broad range of systems management tools to AS/400 users, they also pave the way for new potential customers for participating ISVs. The conclusion among participants is that the program is an idea whose time has come as IBM’s AS/400 strategy veers sharply toward e-business and the platform finds itself in an increasingly diverse network environment.

“IBM saw a need as early as 1991 to boost its OS/400 systems management capabilities, and they had to decide whether to build it themselves or take advantage of what’s already there. You could say that the company is skating to where the puck is,” says Tryon Earl, worldwide marketing and product manager for the AS/400 at Candle Corp.

“It made sense for IBM to embrace the systems management products that already exist, rather than develop their own systems management products and try to get the market to accept them.”

Candle’s offering, called CandleLight Workstation, is a Java Bean component application that lets AS/400 users detect and prevent system problems before they impact the performance and availability of AS/400 systems. The product is a scaled down version of the Candle Command Center for OS/400. It can manage more than 400 system attributes and monitor an unlimited number of local and remote AS/400s from a central location.

Other program participants agree that a cross-platform systems management capability has become a key part of IBM’s AS/400 strategy.

“In the AS/400’s early days, it was primarily an admirably performing departmental processor, but now it’s an important entity working with other processors, including Unix, Windows NT, Tandem, and mainframes,” says Darrol Buytenhuys, president of New Dimension Software. “As the AS/400 becomes more of an enterprise server, it becomes increasingly cross-platform-dependent, and that’s where I think our software products can really help. We offer the same project scheduler with a common interface across many platforms.”

New Dimension Software boasts that its Control-M production control and job-scheduling application is the only cross-platform job scheduler on the first release of the CD. The product lets operations personnel manage and automate the setup, scheduling and execution of processes running across multi-platform, midrange and client/server environments.

Broich says IBM chooses the software vendors that make up the partnership based on their brand significance in the AS/400 systems management community, as well as their reputations for reliability and performance.

“These ISVs are known to us because we research them, but our customers may not have time to find them all,” says Broich. “We have a team of development people that evaluate the products, and look at the ratings from consultants and reviews in the trade press. Then we ask, ‘Does it fit the niches we’re trying to address?’ We want companies that have one single systems management focus, such as inventory management.”