focus topic: Why Upgrade to V4R4 and New AS/400e Servers?

IBM bombarded its AS/400 customers with a myriad of technical advancements last year, hoping to transform the former legacy system into a premium millennium server while enjoying prosperous upgrade sales. This strategy proved successful as the system experienced an extremely profitable 1998 and the enhancements received wide acclaim among industry press and analysts.

“1998 was one of the best years we ever had for the AS/400,” says Hilary Melville, IBM’s manager of AS/400 Lifecycle Operations based in Rochester, NY.

Big Blue wants to keep the momentum going while remaining true to the open systems strategy it established a little more than a year ago. Thus, the recently announced OS/400 Version 4 Release 4 (V4R4) takes over where the last two releases left off, with enhanced Java, TCP/IP and e-business capabilities as well as new logical partitioning and clustering. In addition, IBM just launched a new line of AS/400 servers that consolidates the performance of three of its predecessors into one solution. “We are trying to increase our visibility as a server of choice for midrange computing systems,” Melville says.

Why Upgrade to the New Releases?

Though notable, the new releases may not cause customers to immediately storm their reseller to buy new AS/400 hardware and software systems. Instead the enhancements will reaffirm IBM’s commitment to open systems, e-business, and customer needs.

“The announcement does not represent a radical shift in direction. It fills in the blanks of the strategy IBM announced a year ago. But it’s still important,” says David Andrews, Managing Partner of D.H. Andrews Group, a Cheshire, Conn.-based consultancy. “There’s a tendency when new releases come out, to look down the lists and see what’s in there. If there’s nothing compelling, they’ll just wait and see.”

One IS manager at a large AS/400 shop agrees, stating that his company will review the enhancements carefully before deciding whether or not to upgrade their operating systems from earlier Version 4 releases. The shop is currently migrating from V4R2 to V4R3 and probably won’t consider deploying Release 4 for another six months, unless one of its IT executives decides his department needs a V4R4 feature to boost performance and availability.

“We have a fairly complete group of IT performance people. They know when these machines will be out of gas and when to up the CPU, DASD, and memory,” he says. “We don’t want to get too far behind. We will look at what we can get out of it and see if the sheer operating system set up is going to give us some kind of boost. There’s more functions coming out but they may not affect us.”

Like approximately 50 percent of its counterparts, this AS/400 shop retains the AS/400 software subscription, which includes free upgrades to the latest operating system, making it cost-effective to upgrade. However, the shop must still schedule a substantial amount of downtime to deploy the upgrade throughout its large network. Although they can install the new releases over the weekend without affecting performance, they still have to devote the resources to implement, test and possibly debug the upgrades. Therefore this customer is hesitant to implement new releases simply because they represent the latest and greatest version unless they can demonstrate tangible benefits for his environment.

Andrews also believes customers regard many enhancements as “nice to haves” but won’t push to deploy them unless they can identify special applications that support their core business needs, like e-business and TCP/IP does for many clients. Otherwise, they will wait until it’s convenient to upgrade.

“Many Version 3 users will be motivated to move to Version 4 because TCP/IP performance has improved dramatically. TCP/IP will performance faster. Anyone using it in an e-commerce setting will tend to be attracted to Version 4,” Andrews says.

V4R4 boosts TCP/IP performance up to 40 percent over previous operating systems, according to Jim Herring, senior technical staff member in IBM’s Server Division based in Rochester, NY. Enhanced TCP/IP capabilities also let customers create a Virtual Private Network for communicating over the Internet. Authentication and encryption mechanisms secure the data by blocking access to transmissions and guaranteeing that only the authenticated party can access them.

Most Customers Face an Easy Migration Path

Some AS/400 customers will implement the new releases to gain processing power and improve overall system performance while others, many of whom subscribe to the software maintenance plan, will eventually upgrade to V4R4 as a matter of course, hoping to leverage the best solution available.

“For people on black boxes [Version 3 and up], some will go to V4R4 because Version 4 performs better than Version 3,” Andrews says. “You’re giving up a lot of performance if you don’t. In total, anyone on Version 3 on a RISC box will, if it’s compelling to, move to version 4.”

The good news is most, about 80 percent, of AS/400 customers can jump to either of the recent OS/400 upgrade releases and V4R4 and V4R3 in just one upgrade, according to Melville. He estimates that 50 percent of current AS/400 customers use Version 3 while 17 percent still rely on earlier versions and the remaining 30+ percent run Version 4 releases.

“We had a tremendous increase in the number of customers going to V4R3 last fall,” Herring says. “Part of this is due to the new functions and high quality of previous two releases. This gave people assurance that they [new operating systems] wouldn’t put their business in jeopardy.”

New AS/400e Series Consolidates Multiple Servers into One

Reliability represents a key factor that distinguishes the AS/400 from many of its peers. But the need for more sophisticated applications to support core business operations generally drives both software and hardware upgrades. In turn, IBM introduced a new line of AS/400e servers to provide more punch for the price; thereby enabling users to deploy resource-intensive applications on a midrange box instead of forcing them to run the applications on a more expensive mainframe system or on several midrange systems.

“Previously if you were a customer with little interactive requirements, you could purchase a server system for a small amount of batch processing at a significantly lower price. But if you had interactive requirements higher than the intended server could offer, you had to go to an advanced system,” Melville says.

The new 700 Series eliminates the need to purchase more expensive large systems. It offers greater processing power, speed and performance as well as the ability to handle multiple business processes and resource-intensive ones on fewer enterprise servers, making it more cost effective to purchase new hardware systems now than ever before. The new servers can accommodate customers of all sizes with entry level servers for small and medium-sized companies and enterprise servers for larger customers. All new servers deliver 64-bit processor technology and raise price performance 30 percent over their youngest predecessors. They also support V4R3 of the OS/400 operating and will include support for V4R4 when it becomes available.

“What you’ll see happening is some consolidation of systems, potentially more upgrades of existing systems to the new 700 line,” Herring says. “What happened in the past as applications grew, customers spun them off onto a second system to handle the new applications. Now they can upgrade to the 700.”

Clustering and Logical Partitioning

In addition to increased power, performance and support for TCP/IP and e-business, IBM believes the systems new clustering and logical partitioning capabilities will drive users to implement the latest hardware and software upgrades. Large customers, in particular, should flock to deploy the new capabilities as they have been demanding a way to consolidate multiple processes on one server and logically cluster servers to ensure high availability amid system failure.

“A lot of customers back in the old days of the AS/400, certainly those based on the CISC system, had to distribute workloads of businesses on multiple AS/400 systems. They’ve been looking for ways to consolidate their workloads on one or fewer footprints and to simplify the management with processing power,” Herring says. “In the last few years, we’ve been able to put on CPU capacity but did not offer a good way to segment their business because of conflicts with different languages and rules. Partitioning gives them that ability. You can define a partition based on amount of processes, DASD required, and I/O devices required. If you want you can allocate the processes differently.”

IBM solution providers want to cluster their AS/400 systems logically as well as physically so they can provide fail-safe service to their customers by connecting multiple servers across different locations so they can automatically back each up in case any system or systems fail. The transition should occur seamlessly so customers will not experience any service interruption or performance problems.

“All of our large size customers where constant availability is critical want to cluster large systems,” Herring says. “What we have done with V4R4 is enable large customers to put 128 AS/400 systems in a cluster to provide them with the mechanism to fail over in case one of them goes down. If a link goes down, you can switch over to another system reliably. The switchover to another system is automatic.”

Year 2000 Compliance

Even if the numerous enhancements don’t convince legacy system owners to forgo their white boxes bundled with OS/400 Version 2 or below in favor of the sleeker and more powerful black ones and the associated V4R3 or 4, the need to convert to Year 2000-compliant systems should. Only Version 3 and higher operating systems support the Year 2000 date change.

“We think the AS/400 is nearly certain to have a good 1999,” Andrews says. “First because of the sheer number of white boxes out there with users that have to do something this year to comply with the Year 2000. Some will take a simplistic Version 3 approach. A few will forget to do it and have the system blow up as the system fails to handle the Year 2000 date change. And they will do whatever they have to do to fix it.”