Jarosh's Promise: More Copper, Java and Hype

Efforts to aggressively move the AS/400 into the center of IBM's e-business universe have met some headwinds of resistance, but the AS/400, being the powerful locomotive it is, presses forward. That's the message AS/400 Brand General Manager Tom Jarosh brought to the recent AS/400 Web Summit in New York, sponsored by The 400 Group (Dedham, Mass.) and MIDRANGE Systems. Jarosh unveiled IBM's AS/400 roadmap for the next two years, which promises some name changes, greater hardware performance through new processors, more Java, and more support for Windows NT.

By the end of next year, the AS/400 will be a fully Java-enabled machine, he declared. During the year, IBM will release a PTF that includes a Java toolkit, along with support for Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), the components for building Java-based enterprise-scale applications. As part of a drive toward network-centric computing, DB2 for the AS/400 will also be rebranded as Universal Database (UDB) for the AS/400, incorporating integrated multimedia support and object relational constructs.

However, Jarosh acknowledged some glitches with deployment of IBM's WebSphere application server, which supports EJB deployment. These shortfalls are primarily in documentation and support for AS/400 systems, stemming from lack of AS/400 mindshare on the part of AS/400's software division, he stated. "Websphere caught us a little off-guard," Jarosh admitted. In response, he said he directed that AS/400 groups be added to all of IBM's Websphere development centers. Websphere is central to IBM's efforts to support the building and deployment of Web and Java-based enterprise applications.

Another area IBM has hit snags is in positioning of its network computer architecture as a PC-buster. While sales have been strong as terminal replacements in AS/400 environments, IBM's Network Station "hasn't hit broad market acceptance," Jarosh admits. The eventual success of NCs in the market is "still up in the air," due to the strength of Microsoft's Zero Administration for Windows (ZAW) initiatives, as well as low- priced PCs.

In fact, through the Integrated PC Server (IPCS), IBM is racheting up its support for Windows NT within AS/400 environments. Next year, IPCS will support two and four-way SMP processing for Windows NT, he said. IBM has dropped OS/2 Warp Server, and will not provide an upgrade to Novell NetWare 5 on IPCS, he said. The numbers and demand simply did not make the continued development effort on these platforms worthwhile for IBM, he candidly stated.

In the first quarter of 2000, the first AS/400s will be fitted with PowerPC processors built on copper chip technology, Jarosh said. These are IBM's Pulsar family of processors, which will succeed the current Northstar line. Another feature to be included in Pulsar chips is silicon insulator technology (SOI), which slows down electricity leakage between circuits, he added. This will result in a "40 percent performance improvement" in the processors, he said. Later in 2000, a 1 GHz PowerPC processor will be available for the AS/400.

Jarosh also disclosed that the AS/400 Brand has been purchasing record levels of advertising, and had to overcome some initial resistance from the corporate level in releasing more visually stimulating styles of ads. Many of these ads promote the fact that the AS/400 may be the most secure system available for e-business. The AS/400 is virtually impossible to break in to, and "in its ten year of history, there has never been a virus in the AS/400," Jarosh noted. He also disclosed that IBM even a group of ex-KGB agents, working along with IBM's ethical hackers, to try to break into an AS/400 system. "They haven't been able to do it yet," he declared. Ironically, the reason for AS/400's high levels of security is something for which it is frequently criticized -- "not as many interfaces available as other computer systems," he notes. "We don't have all our APIs open."