editorial: Breaking Through

Early last month, News Editor Dennis Callaghan and myself trudged our way to the frozen tundra of Rochester, Minn. for a pre-briefing on IBM’s next set of AS/400 hardware and software announcements. As I faced the minus-12 degree temperatures, blowing snow and the prospect of having to camp out at the Minneapolis airport with a couple hundred of my closest friends on the return journey, I wondered if I checked my sanity with my bags back at the Philadelphia airport.

Although there is a certain glamour to journalism and business travel, this was hardly a trip to Atlanta to cover IBM’s Summer Olympics IT deployment. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have bothered to make the trip, as the AS/400’s star seemed to be waning against the open systems movement. But in 1999, it is a whole different story.

Debra Thompson, IBM’s VP of enterprise servers, summed it up best during her opening remarks at the press briefing. She pointed out that the face of the AS/400 is changing. It is moving from mission critical RPG applications to solving new business requirements like e-business, Java, Lotus Domino, data warehousing/mining and server consolidation. "The AS/400 has broken through the barrier," she said. "Customers are using the AS/400 to solve new business problems."

According to Thompson, the rate of V4R1 and V4R2 adoption by customers was "pretty" substantial. The results of a July 1998 MIDRANGE Systems reader survey agree with Thompson’s statement. Prior to the release of V4R3, 21 percent of survey respondents were on V4R2, while 15 percent were running V4R1. More importantly, only 30 percent of survey respondents were running V3R6 or earlier.

As further proof of this transition from the classical 5250 transaction workload, IBM is streamlining the AS/400 systems and server (and custom mixed-mode servers) product lines into one unified 64-bit Northstar-based 7XX Series product line. Customers will be able to define what performance characteristics they want; for example, you can optionally add as much interactive performance as you need. No more red and blue stripes, from now on it will just be red.

This move to solving new business problems is helping to shatter the AS/400’s reputation as IBM’s best-kept secret. The January 11 issue of Sm@rt Reseller – a magazine that targets today’s Internet savvy channel – carried an article on the value of the AS/400 as a Web server. The article’s lead read, "It’s possible to lose money in the AS/400 business, but you have to try." The thrust of the story was that resellers can make a buck or two by moving AS/400 systems to the Web. Watch out, you and your AS/400-based shops are now a hot prospect.

You should be. You have proven yourselves to be astute consumers of information technology. The trendsetters. Now it looks as if the rest of the world is finally grasping the big picture. Reliability, scalability, flexibility, security, simplicity and centralized management really do matter.

As you can see by our cover stories, IBM has big plans for the AS/400 during 1999. The May release of V4R4 will bring LPAR, enhanced clustering options, an improved TCP/IP stack, up to 4.29 TB of attached DASD and eventually pave the way for the DB2 Universal Database. Like IBM says, "V4R4 extends your business reach." Isn’t that really what IT is all about?