7XX Series Looking Good in Early Ship Program

If the idea behind the new Model 7XX servers was to simplify the processes of purchasing, installation and use, IBM has hit its mark, according to three key members of the 7XX early ship program.

With the 7XX line, IBM consolidates Series 6XX systems, SXX servers and mixed-mode servers into a unified AS/400e server product line, consisting of models 720, 730 and 740. Announced Feb. 9 and generally available since Feb. 26, the 7XX line is IBM's way of meeting AS/400 customer requirements in the areas of simplicity, scalability and flexibility.

Welch's (Concord, Mass.), the world's leading marketer of Concord and Niagara grape-based products, stepped up to the 7XX line to accommodate its increasing number of applications involving decision support, Windows and Java. The company echoes IBM's philosophy that using a single machine avoids the complication of replicating data and does not slow system performance.

Group Dekko Services LLC (Kendallville, Ind.), manufacturers of electrical wire harnesses used in office furniture, automobiles and household appliances, was looking to consolidate its corps of AS/400 servers while providing a flexible upgrade path for both interactive and server workloads.

Polyclad Laminates Inc. (Franklin, N.H.), a Cookson America Inc. (Providence, R.I.) company that produces high-performance laminates, plans to use its new Model 720 to enable Web and e-commerce technologies.

All of Welch's manufacturing, financials and maintenance management applications run on AS/400, according to Deepak Mohapatra, manager of computer operations and network services at Welch's. The company's fleet of AS/400s includes three at corporate headquarters in Concord and one at each of Welch's four production facilities.

"In the production AS/400 environment, we have a primary AS/400 and a secondary AS/400, mirrored to the primary box using products from DataMirror Corp. (Markham, Ontario) to provide 24-hour availability," Mohapatra says. "We chose a 7XX box to be a secondary box mainly because of the workload we were going to run on it. Apart from [the 7XX server] being a mirrored box to our primary production box, it also supports a data warehouse and a big, server-side Java-based e-commerce application."

This Java-based e-commerce application is critical to Welch's operations in the consumer goods industry, according to Mohapatra. Welch's e-commerce infrastructure consists of homegrown, 100 percent pure Java code, developed using IBM VisualAge for Java, among other tools. "It's pure Java, using JDBC [Java Database Connectivity] to DB2, and that's where we really saw a difference in performance," he says.

"The way we sell products is we have brokers in the marketplace, who in turn sell to the retail stores," Mohapatra says. "These brokers, as well as the retail stores, interact with our system via the Internet. It's all HTML on the client side, and everything is Java-based on the server side. We have a heavy, heavy SQL workload on the AS/400. That workload combined with query workload from the data warehouse prompted us to go to a 7XX model [implemented near the end of October last year]."

Though Welch's stayed with AS/400 technology, the company tested its e-commerce application on NT. "It ran without any complication, because the code is written in pure Java," Mohapatra points out. "But, even with a 4-way from Dell Corp., we had some issues. Mainly, all our databases are on the AS/400. Also, all our security was so much geared toward the AS/400, we didn't want to risk putting anything on the NT box. Because the data is real-time, the e-commerce application is pretty much real-time. If we had deployed that on an NT box, we would have to make sure that data transformations would occur in real-time between the two boxes."

Mohapatra says Welch's does not plan to migrate to V4R4 within the next six months. This newest release of OS/400 does not provide enough added value for the company's computing infrastructure. "Our Java applications depend on servlets pretty much, and servlets are available in V4R3," he adds. "V4R4 has no Java enhancements. So for us, it doesn't make sense to go to V4R4 immediately. We will, eventually."

Group Dekko stepped up to a Model 730-2066 as a way to harvest its growing farm of AS/400s. "We were looking to upgrade as well as to consolidate," says Chris Edwards, VP of systems at Group Dekko, which had been running its entire set of financials, payroll and benefits system on a Model 510. The new Model 730 now assumes that burden, and will lead the way for Group Dekko to consolidate from 20 AS/400s to two servers over time.

Group Dekko's AS/400 consolidation is expected to occur in stages. "What we were looking at was for this machine [Model 730] to provide us the horsepower to consolidate those AS/400s," Edwards says. "I want to take 13 of those 20 and eventually consolidate those into two machines."

The first step in the consolidation process was "getting one of the new boxes in, testing it out, making sure everything worked well and taking a look at what kind of horsepower we got on the new machine," Edwards says. "Keeping true to the history of the AS/400, costwise there was more horsepower per dollar spent on the new [7XX] series, versus the older models."

Implemented in mid-December of last year, the Model 730 was up and running, "as fast as we could save off the old system and restore onto the new system," according to Edwards. This included the migration of financials software from Software Plus (Florham Park, N.J.) and BPCS manufacturing software from System Software Associates Inc. (Chicago). The change affected about 750 of Group Dekko's users, increasing the speed with which they access the system.

In late November of 1998, Polyclad implemented a Model 720, the fifth AS/400 in the company's network. According to Rich Caron, MIS systems manager, the introduction of 7XX server line "eliminated any confusion" as to whether Polyclad would go with a new system or server.

"If you want client/server applications like Web hosting and Lotus Domino, you get a server," Caron says. "If you want to do 5250 interactive sessions you would walk down the server path and be forced to marry one of those specific hardware platforms. I don't want to be forced to make that decision with today's business climate constantly changing."

Much of Polyclad's technology questions will take time to answer. "It is difficult to know at this time, for example, how many hits the company can expect on its Web site -- 50 or 50,000," Caron points out. This uncertainty put Polyclad in a difficult situation regarding which server it would choose, especially with Domino. "Six to eight months ago, I wasn't sure [Domino] would be a success on the AS/400," he says. "If we're going to be putting 400 or 500 users on that, that would change my business decision on which model I would choose. With the 720, I don’t have to make that decision anymore. I don't have to choose a server model or a system model; I'm not confined by those hardware boundaries."

Polyclad plans to use its Model 720 as its e-business, Lotus Notes and disaster recovery backup server. "We are running away from NT as fast as we can because now these services are available on the AS/400," Caron says.

One of the greatest features of the new model, according to Caron, is its capability to act as a backup to the main production system, a Model 530 with a 4-way processor configuration to handle financials and manufacturing applications. "In the event of a disaster, [the Model 720] will become our disaster recovery server," he says. "Those are two completely different animals previously, where one is interactive sessions and one is server. We would have had to buy an enormous system to handle both of those workloads."

Polyclad plans to move its production server from the Model 530 to a 7XX server later this year. Caron did not replace the Model 530 with a 7XX this time around because Polyclad had a stronger need for another, redundant AS/400. "If we didn't, we'd be in the same boat with regard to disaster recovery," he says.

Polyclad does not currently have any production e-business applications. One such application the company is looking at is remote order entry, and there are a number of others. "That's part of our question," Caron says. "What will be the demand for e-business in the next year or two years? This model gives us the flexibility to go wherever we want."