IBM Announces V4R4

No more red or blue boxes, more Model 170s and the Northstar chip across the entire product line are some of the changes in store for the AS/400 in advance of May’s planned V4R4 release of OS/400.

These and other hardware improvements will become generally available Feb. 26. V4R4 will debut May 21, bringing enhanced application development, porting and execution environments, improved security and enterprise-class TCP/IP for e-business, logical partitioning, Universal Database and enhanced clustering options.

“There’s an enormous amount of code with this release,” says David Andrews, managing partner of the Cheshire, Conn.-based consultancy, D.H. Andrews Co. “It’s a major release in that sense, but as far as having a lot of huge, wrenching, ‘man-bites-dog’ kind of changes, not this time around. It builds on and fine-tunes those types of improvements that were made before [in V4R2].”

On the hardware side, IBM has eliminated the server/system dichotomy. Series 6XX systems [“blue boxes”] and SXX servers [“red boxes”] and mixed-mode servers have been combined into one unified product line – the 7XX servers with models 720, 730 and 740. Users of 6XX systems and SXX servers and mixed-mode servers will be able to upgrade directly to a 7XX server.

“In the past, we had a separate server and system line and we always had an upgrade path within each line,” says Bob Elliott, 1999 project manager for the AS/400 Brand. “If a customer had bought a system and their workload changed so that they needed more batch processing, they couldn’t buy only the characteristics they needed. They had to buy a whole new box. Now we fully support an upgrade path that lets you add server performance only to an existing system. Customers have full flexibility, regardless of their current environment to move into whatever processor characteristics they need.”

The 6XX systems are best suited for 5250 interactive applications while the SXX servers are suited for client/server or batch processing. With the 7XX servers, users can have either one or both processor features in the same box, depending on their needs.

Andrews says that though the introduction of the 7XX servers is more marketing than technology, it’s the most significant news of this release.

“It simplifies the product line and gives customers a lot more flexibility,” he says. “There’s less risk that whatever they buy will turn out to be the wrong product.” Andrews says the ending of the server/system dichotomy is particularly important because many AS/400 customers have traditionally had difficulty understanding which type of box better suits their needs.

“Instead of having to worry about what kind of box to buy, you have one model family that handles anything well. There’s still the issue of having to worry about which applications are considered interactive by the system and how much interactive processing power you’ll need, but the whole situation is now much easier to deal with.”

Since the upgrade to a 7XX box is a processor upgrade, users won’t have to trade in their SXX and 6XX boxes, Elliott says.

“It’s all done at the processor level, you’re not changing frames and covers. That’s in keeping with our message of investment protection, minimal disruptions and minimal downtime.”

Customers can upgrade to a 7XX server from any RISC box, including the System/36 series 436, also known as the Advanced/36.

IBM has simplified the buying decision for these new models. Users select what model they want, then select whatever feature number they need for processor performance and optional interactive performance.

In the past, performance characteristics for each server and system were set at the factory and unchangeable thereafter, Elliott says. “The workload was preset at the factory. If your system or server didn’t meet your performance workload characteristics, you couldn’t customize it.”

Customers will now be able to add new processor features if they outgrow the feature they buy their servers with.

The hot-selling AS/400e Model 170, which was introduced last year with five different processor points, the most within any model, gets two more processor features this year, one at the low end and one at the high end. The new low-end processor feature, #2289, has a processor CPW of 50 and an interactive CPW of 15. It’s at the P05 software tier and can be upgraded to a larger processor, which is required for an expansion unit. It’s ideal for customers in a non-compute-intensive client/server environment with a normal workload.

“The 2289 is best suited for classic AS/400 applications written in RPG and COBOL,” says Elliott. “It’s not targeted as a ‘lead-with” processor for object-oriented and Java applications.”

IBM has not released pricing yet for the Model 170 with processor feature #2289, but Elliott says it will be closer to the Model 150, which sells for $5,995, than the current entry Model 170, which sells for $7,995.

Elliott says adding this new low-end processor feature allows more small-business customers to take advantage of Model 170 technology, giving them an upgrade path that they can’t have with the non-upgradeable Model 150.

The larger processor feature for the Model 170, #2388, is a 2-way processor feature, with processor CPW of 1,090 and interactive CPW feature of 70. It’s at the P20 software tier and can be expanded to 10 MB of DASD. This new processor feature more than doubles the processor CPW of the Model 170, #2386, the previous high end of the Model 170 line. Interactive performance remains the same.

Andrews says IBM “underplayed” the Model 170 when it was released last year, and despite its first-year success, the box is still underselling its market potential.

“That’s fairly significant because people don’t understand what a good deal the 170 is. There are still a ton of white-box [CISC] AS/400s out there, we think about a quarter-million of them, just chugging away. The majority of them fall into the [performance] range now covered by the 170. If they want to upgrade their software, they’d have to pay a version change fee. If you look at the cost of moving just to V3R2, they’re better off junking the white box and buying a 170 and going straight to V4R4. They’ll find that the performance usually exceeds what they bought five, six years ago, but it costs just a fraction as much.”

Lotus Domino is another niche the Model 170 can play in, Andrews says. He says the Model 170 is suitable for about 50 percent of the Domino server market. The AS/400 now gets only about 10 percent of that market total, with most of the rest going to Windows NT-based PC servers.

“The 170 is maturing into a great product, but it continues to undersell its potential. People don’t understand the significance of it,” Andrews says.

The Northstar processor will be available across the entire new AS/400 product line of Model 170s and Series 7XX servers with this release. That gives the AS/400 a 330 times scalability improvement from the Model 150 up to a 12-way Model 740. Previously, Northstar was available only in the Model 170 and 8- and 12-way Model 650s and S40s.

“A small shop or large business can have application commonality across a wide range of AS/400 platforms and still be consistent in terms of their operating system,” says Elliott.

The Integrated PC Server has undergone a name change again. Previously known as the FSIOP (File Server I/O Processor), the IPCS is now the Integrated Netfinity Server for AS/400. Netfinity is IBM’s brand name for a PC server running Windows NT. The Integrated Netfinity Server for AS/400 will feature a 333 MHz Pentium Pro processor [up from 200 MHz before] and up to 1 GB memory, allowing it to support larger workloads than before. Symmetric multiprocessing support is planned for the future.

“We’re signaling to the marketplace that we’re working much more closely with our Netfinity partners and taking greater advantage of that closer linking to deliver PC server technology to the AS/400 marketplace,” says Elliott. “AS/400 customers can anticipate better, faster technology from the Netfinity group. We want to take advantage of their work more so than we have in the past.”

Elliott says an advertising campaign is underway that promotes the Netfinity server on the AS/400.

Input/output improvements include an increase in DASD capacity of up to 4.29 TB with attachments, up from the current 2.096 TB, and 25 GB quarter-inch cartridge tape, nearly doubling the current 13 GB capacity.

“The AS/400 is becoming a really compelling solution story,” says Laurie McCabe, service director at Boston-based Summit Strategies. “It should be able to turn some heads this year. It already has been doing that, but it should turn even more.”